“In my community they don’t look at me and laugh anymore because I can’t walk properly but they look at me like an athlete and with respect."
To celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, the IPC and its development arm the Agitos Foundation are catching up with some of the most successful projects they have supported since the Foundation was officially launched in 2012
After more than half a century of armed conflict in Colombia, the country’s National Paralympic Committee (NPC) is developing its pool of talent with help from the Agitos Foundation in some of the most affected areas, as a strategy of peace building and reintegration of victims through sport.
Colombia is currently immersed in a peace process to end the violence and in 2013, the Colombian National Paralympic Committee (NPC) applied for funding from the Grant Support Programme for an ambitious project that aimed to identify talented track and field athletes and put in place training for specialist coaches and support staff.
Their objective was clear; strengthen para-sport in the most vulnerable areas of Colombia - Uraba Antioqueno, Choco and Monteria.
In November 2013, the NPC organised talent scouting visits to the three regions as a starting point for their search.
They reached out to the surrounding communities to advertise the event and attracted more than 60 potential athletes, 17 of which were selected to compete at an international competition in Medellin in November 2014 against some of the best athletes in South America.
Key to keeping the momentum going and improving the performance of the athletes was the recruitment and training of coaches and support staff, which fitted in with workshops being run in South America in partnership with the organisers of the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games.
Luis Herazo was one of the new athletes who benefitted, finishing on the podium in Medellin.
“I am not the same isolated guy,” he said. “In my community they don’t look at me and laugh anymore because I can’t walk properly but they look at me like an athlete and with respect.
“They don’t say “here comes the patuleco [a person with a twisted leg]”. Now they say "here comes Luis Herazo”. The day I won medals [in Medellin] we celebrated in my community.”
Another athlete, javelin thrower Cesar Ballesteros, was convinced of the impact the project could have after he also medalled in Medellin.
“I have a relative who is an amputee and when I was showing him my medal, it was like “look what I got, you can also do it!”.
“Before, I did not even run or throw the javelin but with training I surpassed myself. I surpassed myself so much that when the International Paralympic Committee and Agitos Foundation first came, I threw the javelin and didn’t actually throw it, I did not mark.
“But here I am now, I can throw it in a good way.”
Herazo meanwhile is aiming for the stars.
“I want to learn every day something new that allows me to be a recognised athlete,” he said. “One day I also want, with the help from God, to represent my country and listen to the Colombian anthem during an international competition.
“But my biggest dream is going to the Paralympic Games and winning a medal for my country.”
The 17 athletes won a total of 14 medals between them. Alongside Herazo and Ballasteros, a number of others identified have the potential to make it to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The Agitos Foundation will follow their journey between now and 2016 as they try to compete under the Colombian flag.
The Agitos Foundation is the only organisation dedicated to the global development of para-sport. Working from grassroots through to Paralympic Games, it harnesses the power of sport as a force for change.