By Ronal Quiñones
By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – Being born with a disability can be a great reason for sadness in a family, not everybody is able to accept it. In the case of the visually impaired, people become shy on the whole because they don’t completely know what is going on around them, and there can also be an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.
However, if this person’s family and surroundings come together, this child can become a fully functional person. They can even excel within society in extraordinary cases, such as multi-Olympic and world medalist from Cuba Omara Durand. She is the first visually impaired woman to run 100 m in less than 12 seconds.
A congenital cataract, a condition that causes chronic shortsightedness (unable to see things at a distance) and astigmatism (inability to focus), was the obstacle Life threw her way.
Omara had a great knack for athletics since she was a little girl (although she also liked volleyball and gymnastics). She has fond memories of her first trainer, Reinaldo Cascaret.
“I am very grateful because he not only looked out for me in sports, but in every aspect of my life. I was only seven years old when I started out, on a scholarship at a special school for the blind and visually impaired (in her native city Santiago de Cuba). He was like my father there.”
A world champion at 15
Omara was the world champion at just 15 years old, at her first international competition, in Sao Paulo, back in 2007.
“I was extremely nervous and anxious for an important win, but I felt strong and I won the 100 and 200 m. Just a week later, I came first in the 100, 200 and 400 m at the Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I competed against Brazilian Teresina Guilhermino in the 400 m race, and she was from another category, but they combined them and I had to push myself to the limit, despite her being totally blind, because she had the support of her people and maybe didn’t think I could win.”
However, after that dream of a debut, Omara experienced failure the following year at the Beijing Paralympics, where an injury stopped her from shining as bright as she could.
“I went with great hopes of becoming an Olympic champion. I had trained really hard and things didn’t go my way, because I got injured. I felt awful and cried a lot, it was the first tough moment in my sports career. I had to wait four years, I recovered from my injury, and as I was young, I knew that I still had many things ahead of me and that helped me to recover emotionally.
Olympic Gold in London 2012
“I was the world champion in the 200 and 400 m at the New Zealand World Championships in Athletics, in 2011, setting a new record of 24.24 in the 200 m.
“At the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara that same year, I pushed myself in the 100, 200 and 400 m, but the most important thing was to bring my time down to 12 seconds. It was a lot for me, because I’m not good at taking off; it doesn’t really affect my speed in other ones, but you really do have to take off fast in the 100 m.
“When I finally won Olympic medals in London 2012, I was pregnant, but I only found out when I was back in Cuba. My little girl Erika is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me. She has given me a lot more strength and a reason to carry on training and competing, so she can be proud of her mother.”
It’s been one victory after the next for her ever since, including three gold medals at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, in the 100, 200 and 400 m, that has already become a part of her competition routine. Furthermore, she set world records in the 100 and 400 m, with 11.40 and 51.71 seconds, respectively.
The International Paralympic Committee held a vote on Twitter to decide the best moment in the past decade of Olympics for athletes with dissabilities. The woman from Santiago, competing in the T-12 category – for the severely visually impaired -, led the field this year, thanks to her three gold medals.
Her trainer’s key role
Trainer Miriam Ferrer has played an important part in Omara’s greatest achievements. She has managed her high-performance career from the very beginning.
“She deals with everything. It isn’t only a matter of telling you how many laps you have to run, kms, or weights you have to lift. It’s being on top of everything, even my daughter’s school. I don’t have any complaints from my family.”
Omara also has words of praise for her fellow Cuban Yunidis Castillo, who was the pioneer in this kind of competitions. She won races at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when Omara was just starting out.
“She is Cuba’s pride and joy, especially for us with dissabilities. I really respect her and she motivates me to push myself further.”
Omara also highlights the work of her mentor Yunior Kindelan, who has been running for over a decade, and hopes to continue making history at the Tokyo Paralympics, which have been rescheduled for next year.
“Kindelan is a lot more than my mentor, he is my friend, brother. We are a great duo, we complement each other. When he was a conventional athlete, he ran 400 m and I also chose him because of his experience and human qualities.”
That’s when her eyes light up a bit more, the same eyes that don’t help her at all when it gets dark. She reflects about what she has managed to do and what sports have contributed to her life in general.
How sports lit up her life
“You have to live it for yourself to know what it means to take these medals home. It involves a great deal of sacrifice. Getting up early every day and leaving your family, it doesn’t matter if you have a young daughter like I did, not being able to give her affection. Likewise, renouncing many things in life, like parties and other things young people do to enjoy themselves.
“Sometimes we train under a scorching sun here in Cuba, but you understand it’s all worth it in the end. Sports have been good for me and many other people with disabilities as rehabilitation. I’m not talking about being a champion, because not everyone can do that. I’m talking about the person sitting sad at home and feeling low about themselves.
“Sports can give you life, it’s socializing and letting go of things that accompany you a lot of the time. I myself was very shy, self-conscious and while I can’t say I’m outgoing now, I have gotten a lot better thanks to sports. I am happy and if I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have any problems with my disability.”