Few athletes participating in the 2017 Youth Parapan American Games have Mexican swimmer Raul Valdez’s experience. The 17-year-old will travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil, after having competed at the Parapan American and Paralympic Games.
Valdez made his debut in Para swimming in 2014, when he won one gold and one silver at the Mexican Open Championships. The following year, he qualified for the Parapan American Games in Toronto, Canada.
The young athlete, who has short stature and competes in the S6 category, exceeded his expectations, finishing fourth in three of the five events he competed in despite his lack of international experience.
In 2016, Valdez was called up to the Mexican Para swimming team which participated in Latin America’s first Paralympic Games. He could not qualify for the finals in his two events, but left Rio as one of his country’s biggest medal prospects ahead of future Paralympics.
“I remember competing at my first local Para swimming event some years ago,” recalled Valdez, known by his peers as ‘Little Shark.’
“I could not believe seeing so many people with impairment practising sports and doing so many great things. I felt emotional and enjoyed every moment.”
Valdez was amongst the 30 athletes and coaches identified and trained in Bogota, Colombia, last February, as part of the ‘Road to Sao Paulo 2017 Youth Parapan American Games’ programme.
The Road to Sao Paulo 2017 is the third in the ‘Road to’ series being organised by the Agitos Foundation, the development arm of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
It joins successful editions for the build-up to the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games and the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. A similar programme is also being run with the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
“The Agitos Foundation motivated and prepared us to compete at Sao Paulo 2017,” said Valdez. “My goal for my first Youth Parapan American Games is to win five gold medals.”
Over 800 athletes, aged 12-20 years old, from 20 countries will compete in Sao Paulo, with 12 sports being contested: athletics, boccia, football 5, football 7, goalball, judo, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis.
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.