As a little girl, Zuray Marcano was excluded from the physical education classes at school because her teachers thought her impairment meant she was unable to practise sports.
Several decades later, the 62-year-old Venezuelan powerlifter is set to participate in her second Paralympic Games, proving that neither impairments nor age are barriers to competing at the highest sporting level and achieving maximum personal growth.
“Life is full of surprises,” she said. “I could not practise any sports during my childhood and adolescence due to my professors’ ignorance and intolerance towards disability. But here I am, about to take part in my second Paralympic Games.
“I used to be separated from the rest of the group and had to write down the points and scorers in a spreadsheet, but could not train with the others.”
Marcano’s first Paralympic appearance was at Sydney 2000, finishing eighth in the women’s up to 48kg with a lift of 62.5kg.
“My goal in Sydney was to show everyone in my country that I could also practise sports,” she said.
“I remember being at the Opening Ceremony and thinking that my most talented schoolmates never qualified for an Olympic Games, and I, the one who was writing down the scores as a kid, was going to compete at a Paralympic Games.
“I convinced myself that I could not only practise sports but also do it at the highest possible level. I trained both to compete and to win. It was all part of a long but necessary growth process, both as an athlete and as a human being.”
Marcano was unable to compete at the next three Paralympic Games, but still continued training hard.
“Someone asked me recently if I had the secret of eternal youth,” she said, “because my body does not correspond with my age.
“There are no secrets but to follow a healthy lifestyle. You need to know how to eat healthily, to practice sports, to control stress and anxiety, and to have emotional maturity.
“If governments supported sports and physical activities more from an early age, we would have a healthier world.
“I want to inspire people and show them that you can still lead a healthy and productive life when you are in your sixties.”
In 2014, Marcano finished 11th at the World Championships in Dubai with a lift of 65kg. She then endured a disappointing performance at last year’s Parapan American Games in Toronto, Canada, with three failed attempts.
But the Venezuelan has renewed hope for the Paralympic Games, where she will face strong rivals such as Ukraine’s Lidiia Soloviova and Egypt’s Gihan Abdelaziz.
“I want to show in Rio that my passion for powerlifting is still alive,” she said.
“Rio 2016 will be wonderful, full of joy and superb athletes’ performances, and it will contribute to peace among nations.
“Every Paralympic Games leaves an important legacy to the host city, and this will be especially important to raise awareness of Para sports and disabilities across Latin America.”
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.
Visa International is the exclusive payment card and the official payment system for the Paralympic Games.