Mexican track and field athlete Juana Soto has reflected on her first Paralympic Games in Arnhem, the Netherlands, in 1980, where she won multiple medals despite not having a racing wheelchair to train in.
Her teammate Ruben Rojas, who was also preparing for the Games, decided to share his with Soto, but as she said, “that was not ideal.”
“Unfortunately, there were not many athletics wheelchairs for my team and only men were given one,” said Soto, who won eight golds, three silvers and three bronzes over five Paralympic Games.
“I travelled to Arnhem even though I could not get used to Rojas’ wheelchair very quickly. This required a lot of hard work from my end and many hours of training. I even got hurt due to the tire rubbing.”
In the lead-up to her first Paralympics, Soto trained three hours per session, twice a day.
“I even spent time giving my father a hand with his business, where I had to help producing many kilograms of meat. I believe that helped strengthen my muscles,” she said.
At Arnhem 1980, Soto claimed four golds in the women’s 800m, 1,500m and 60m 5, and in the 4x60m 2-5.
“Those Paralympic Games were very important for me. I will forever remember the organisation and competing against each country’s best athletes,” she said.
“When I think of myself on top of the podium, listening to the national anthem, I get goose bumps.
“My father’s support and his way of giving me courage so that I could improve and do better, and my tenacity and dedication to try to be the best is what made this possible.”
Four years later, Soto sealed two golds, one silver and two bronzes at New York 1984.
“Those were good Paralympic Games, with a high sporting level, although there were some logistical difficulties," she said.
“I especially enjoyed the ones in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988, where I won two golds and two silvers, and which were excellent in terms of competitive level and organisation.”
From the time she competed, the Paralympic Games have enjoyed a fast and sustained growth.
“Now, Para athletes compete at the same venues as Olympic athletes, in many countries they can devote themselves exclusively to training, there are many more events with more countries developing Para sports and a wider spread,” she said.
Editor’s note: “Throwback Thursday” is a feature series published on Paralympic.org twice a month, bringing you some of the top Paralympic athletes of the past.