Mexican Valeria Lopez is hoping her experience at the 2017 Youth Parapan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil, can help her improve her swimming skills ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
In Sao Paulo, the 17-year-old took silver in the women´s 100m backstroke behind Argentina´s Victoria Nofar. Colombia´s Brenda Alfonzo Garcia completed the podium.
“It means a lot to me to be competing in Sao Paulo,” said Lopez. “I love to represent Mexico at international competitions and even more to raise the national flag as high as possible.”
This was Lopez´ sixth overall Youth Parapan Am medal after winning one gold, three silvers and one bronze at Buenos Aires 2013.
“To participate in Buenos Aires 2013 gave me the opportunity to later reach other big international events,” she said.
“I was 14 years old and everything was new to me. Seeing people from different countries all in one place was incredible. But the best part was singing the Mexican national anthem on the podium. That felt great.
“The Youth Parapans are very important as a platform for young athletes to start their sporting careers. Many great athletes from many different countries competed at this Games before going on to participate at the Paralympics.”
Lopez went on to claim gold in the women´s 400m freestyle S6 at the Torono 2015 Parapan American Games, setting a continental record along the way. She also won silver in the 100m freestyle S6.
“Buenos Aires 2013 was the first step towards that gold in Toronto,” she said.
“I did not expect to win the Parapan American title with my family following the race from Mexico. I could not believe it.”
Last year, Lopez made her Paralympic debut in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Despite not reaching the podium, she believes it was a positive experience.
“I did not win any medal, but I learned a lot by competing at the world´s biggest Para sport event,” she said.
With two years and a half away from the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games, and then the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Lopez hopes competing at Sao Paulo will help her qualify for those two major events.
“Just like Buenos Aires 2013 helped me grow to reach Toronto 2015 and Rio 2016, I think Sao Paulo 2017 will help me get to Lima and Tokyo,” said Lopez.
“My biggest dream is to compete at Tokyo 2020 and win a medal, no matter which one.”
The Sao Paulo 2017 will run until 25 March and feature over 800 athletes from 19 countries competing across 12 sports: athletics, boccia, football 5, football 7, goalball, judo, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis.
The last edition at Buenos Aires 2013 attracted more than 600 athletes from 16 countries, who competed across 10 sports. Brazil topped the medal table and 15 countries reached the podium at least once.
Barquisimeto, Venezuela, staged the inaugural edition in 2005, with athletes from 10 countries competing, whilst a total of 14 countries attended the event in Bogota, Colombia, in 2009.
For more information, visit Sao Paulo 2017’s website.