Mexican Arnulfo Castorena's perseverance opens up the medal table of Santiago 2023

Experienced 45-year-old Para swimmer won the 50m breaststroke in SB2 and accumulated one more medal in his seventh Parapan American Games presence 19 Nov 2023
Arnulfo Castorena Mexico Para swimmer
Arnulfo Castorena won the first medal of Santiago 2023, in the 50m breaststroke SB2.
ⒸJavier Vergara/Santiago 2023 via Photosport

Mexican Para swimmer Arnulfo Castorena was the first competitor to put a gold medal around his neck in the Santiago 2023 Parapan American Games.

He won the 50m breaststroke SB2 final on 18 November, the first day of official competition, stopping the clock at 57:75 seconds, ahead of countrymen Cristopher Tronco (1:06:65) and Marcos Zárate (1:13:04), for a 1-2-3 for Mexico.

“I am extremely happy and proud that this medal came so fast”, said Castorena, who turned 45 years old this last May, but still is going strong within the sport. The results attest that he can still do it, but he has other motivations too.

Arnulfo Castorena is still hopeful that he can win one more Paralympic medal in Paris 2024. @Marcelo Hernández/Santiago 2023 via Photosport

“I started in this sport at 15 or 16 years old and for me is a joy to still be competing. Because of my disability, for me is hard to get a job. So, this is my job, this is how I support myself and how I take care of my family”, added Castorena, father of six and husband to Concepción, who always stands beside him in the Athlete’s Village in Santiago.

Castorena, born in the region of Jalisco, in Mexico, did not develop a lung, his left arm and his lower extremities due to a congenital disease. He also experienced a difficult upbringing in a town harassed by violence, poverty and drugs. He lost his mother at birth and his father neglected him, so his maternal grandmother took him in. Nevertheless, she also passed away when he was young.

“It was not easy to get to this point of my life. There have always been too many obstacles, but I have always pulled through. I always want to prove that you can do it even in the middle of adversity”, he explained.

Arnulfo Castorena also won the 50m breaststroke in SB2 in Lima 2019. @Javier Salvo/Santiago 2023 via Photosport

Castorena, who has swum for 30 years, is not unfamiliar of what gold looks and feels. He has amassed dozens of medals of this metal in major international competitions since the first one he won, in this same distance and class, in Sidney 2000.

“These are my seventh Parapan American Games, Now I expect to get to my seventh Paralympics with Paris 2024 and hopefully earn a medal there. But I have to train harder, because each level gets tougher too”, he added.

The Para swimmer is a three-time Paralympic gold medalist (Sidney 2000, Athens 2004 and Tokyo 2020), but also a seven-time world champion (the last one in 2023, in Manchester) and five-time Parapan American champion.

He actually has the Parapan American record for his event, achieved four years ago in Lima, with 56:64 seconds.

Cristopher Tronco (silver), Arnulfo Castorena (gold) and Marcos Zárate (bronze) achieved a 1-2-3 for Mexico in the 50m breaststroke in SB2. @Javier Vergara/Santiago 2023 via Photosport

About Tinoco and Zarate accompanying him in the podium he expressed: “I am really happy for them, because they come from the bottom as I did. It makes me proud, because I know I helped to plant that seed in them. They are Mexico’s future”.

On the other hand, Tronco stated that: “The most beautiful thing about the 1-2-3 is that it shows that we are made for this. It's nice to open the medal table and represent your country well”.

“It is an honour to compete with great sportsman like Arnulfo. He is one of the oldest, so I always try to learn from him. He is a titan in the water”, said Zarate wearing his bronze proudly, which was also the first one dealt in the Games.

Besides Para swimming, the 18 November schedule also handed out medals in Para powerlifting, Para table tennis and Para shooting.

The 2023 Parapan American Games will close on the 26th and, until then, almost 2,000 athletes from 31 countries are competing in 17 different sports.

This is the seventh edition of the biggest Para sport event in the Americas and it is a major stop on the road to Paris 2024 in multiple disciplines, which will offer qualification spots to the Paralympics.