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20 Latina Athletes To Watch At Next Year’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Every two years, the best athletes in the world compete in the Winter or Summer Olympics. Just like the Olympics, the Paralympics is an international multi-sport event that also happens every two years. However, unlike the Olympics, athletes who compete in Paralympics do so with a range of disabilities. With limitations like vision impairment, intellectual impairment, loss of limb, impaired muscle movement and limited field of motion, these athletes prove that there’s no limit to who can be a champion.

The next games are nearly a year and a half away and will take place in Tokyo, Japan. Paralympians will come from all over the world to represent their countries in these games. Of course, from now until the games, these athletes will be doing some serious training to show out big time in Tokyo.

Besides contenders from Mexico and the United States, Central and South America have produced their fair share of medalists. From archery and track and field to basketball and fencing, Latina Paralympians represent their countries with pride.

Though the next games don’t take place until 2020, it’s never too early to start hyping up these amazing Latina Paralympians.

1. Natalie Bieule

Twitter / @NataB12

Florida mom of two, Bieule lost her left leg because of a car accident at the age of 18. A competitive dancer at the time, the Latina didn’t allow the loss to stop her from competing. With the help of her prosthetic, Bieule began her career as a discus thrower soon after her accident. After winning silver and gold in the 2014 and 2015 US Paralympics Track and Field National Championships, Bieule went on to compete in the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

2. Martha Chavez

Joe Kusumoto Photography

A proud veteran of the United States Army, this Mexican born athlete suffered from polio as a small girl. Though she needed leg braces in childhood, Chavez recovered. However, she suffered an injury while in the military and it was made worse by her previous illness. Chavez’s leg weakness makes her dependent on her wheelchair but that hasn’t stopped her from putting her marksmanship skills to good use. The Latina competes in archery using her compound bow and is a two-time silver medalist.

3. Patty Cisneros

YouTube / Cordillera Digital

Three-time Paralympic athlete, Cisneros has been a big name in wheelchair basketball for nearly 20 years. Cisneros was rendered paralyzed in a car crash during her freshman year of college. In 2018, the Latina led the US Paralympics Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team to its second gold medal in the games. The one time ESPY nominee for Best Female Athlete with a Disability, Cisneros now coaches the University of Illinois’ Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team.

4. Andrea DeMello

Earl Wilson / The New York Times

In 1980, DeMello suffered a stroke that rendered her right side completely paralyzed. However, her sport of wheelchair fencing has actually helped in her recovery. An avid marathon runner, the fencer immigrated to the US from Brazil and joined the US Paralympic team. DeMello has participated in four Paralympic games and still travels the world competing in fencing competitions.

5. Christella Garcia

JudoInside.com

Born blind, Garcia has studied Judo since childhood. She started competitively training for the 2012 London Paralympic games in 2007 and hasn’t stopped since. The two-time Paralympian earned bronze in her sport during the 2016 Rio games. When she isn’t competing, Garcia works with local and national charities.

6. Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt

TeamUSA.org

Originally from Bogota, Mosquera-Schmidt is a one-time Paralympic athlete competing in track and field. As a blind woman, she is the American record holder for T11 women in the 1500, 3000, and 5000 meter and marathon distances. She’s also the world champion in Paratriathlon in the Sprint and Olympic distances. When she isn’t competing, Mosquera-Schmidt works as a motivational speaker.

7. Ilena Rodriguez

Tom Stormme / Tribune

Rodriguez grew up in Cuba, swimming in the waters off of Matanzas. When she was 13 she developed a rare spinal condition that rendered her unable to walk. However, Rodriguez learned that she could still swim and went on to competitively train. In 2008, the swimmer set the US record for the 200m breaststroke. The Latina later competed in the 2012 London games.

8. Terezinha Guilhermina

Emilio Morenatti / AP Photo

Representing her home country of Brazil, Guilhermina is one of the best sprinters in the Paralympics. The 39 year old runner holds the world records for 100m and 400m the T11 category — a classification for the most visually impaired athletes. She made her debut at the 2004 Athens games, winning the bronze. In the course of her training, Guilhermina has also trained with and ran alongside Olympian Usain Bolt.

9. Shirlene Coelho

Twitter / @AngelaMilanese

Track and field champion Coelho is a big deal in the Paralympic games. A three-time Paralympian, she competes in all three throwing events — the shot put, javelin, and discus.  The Brazilian native has earned two gold medals and two silver medals in her sports. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy that impairs her balance, Coelho set a new world record in her Javelin class during the 2018 Beijing games.

10. Yunidis Castillo

Twitter / @_yazminsita

A Paralympian track and field star, Castillo has brought several medals home for Cuba. Competing in track and long jump, the Cubana lost her arm at the age of 10 in a car accident. That obviously hasn’t slowed her down a bit. Castillo earned five gold medals combined in the 2008 Beijing games and the 2012 London games. She also won silver during her appearance at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

11. Amalia Pérez

Paralympic.org

A five-time Paralympic champion, the Mexicana is the definition of fuerte. Dependant on a wheelchair due to impaired muscle strength, Pérez is one of Mexico’s best known powerlifters. She’s won three gold medals in the Beijing, London, and Rio games and two silver in Sydney and Athens. Pérez is also the only powerlifter in the world to hold championships in three different divisions.

12. Omara Durand

Instagram / oncubanews

A visually impaired Cubana, Durand is a gold-worthy sprinter. The two-time Paralympian won an combined total of five gold medals in the Rio and London games. During her win in Rio, the Latina set a new world record in the 100m T13 event. All of these accomplishments earned her the title of Best Female Athlete at the 2016 Paralympic Awards.

13. Aline Rocha

Twitter / @flaviodilascio

When Rocha competed in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter games, she became the first Brazilian to ever join the Winter games. In 2006, a car crash resulted in paraplegia. She found the sport of cross country skiing after her injury. In 2018, she was named Best Female Para Cross-country Skier of the year by the Brazilian Confederation of Snow Sports. Rocha may have impressed the world with her fourth place preformance in Pyeongchang but she eager to show her growth at the 2022 Beijing games.

14. Yazmith Bataz

Twitter / @markopticmx

Three time Paralympian Bataz has been representing her home of Mexico since the 2004 Athens games. Due to the amputation of her legs, the Mexicana competes in track events with a wheelchair. In 2007, Bataz set a new Pan-American record in the 100m T54. In 2014, the champion received the Medal of Merit for a Person with Disabilities from the government of Baja California Sur — her home state.

15. Thiare Casarez

Wikipedia.com

A sprint and mid-distance runner, Casarez competes for her home country of Mexico. In 2013, she represented Mexico in the IPC Athletics World champions. There, the runner earned silver in both the 200m and 400m events. Casarez is training for the next Paralympics and hopes to represent Mexico again in 2020.

16. María de los Ángeles Ortiz

Alchetron.com

A three-time Paralympian, de los Angeles Ortiz has represented Mexico proudly in her sport of shot put. In 2004, she had to have a leg amputated after a car accident so she competes in a wheelchair. In her first appearance at the games, the Mexicana won a silver medal. Later, in the 2012 and 2016 games, she won a gold medal in both London and Rio. In 2011, de los Angeles Ortiz received Mexico’s National Sports Award.

17. Yanina Martinez

Paralympic.org

Martinez is a Paralympian from Argentina who represented her country in the 2016 games. Born with cerebral palsy, the runner experiences coordination issues. During Rio’s Paralympic events, Martinez earned gold on the women’s 100m dash. That year, she also won the Silver Olimpia Award for Best Para Athlete.

18. Maritza Arango Buitrago

Alchetron.com

Colombian racer Buitrago competes in the middle distance events in track and fields. In 2003, a rare degenerative eye disorder began to take her eyesight which led her into a deep depression. She decided to focus on athletics to get past the negativity she felt about her mental illness and blindness. She went on to represent her county in Rio where she would go on to win two bronze medals.

19. Martha Hernández

Twitter / @JulianPericoJr

Track and field star Hernádez has a visual impairment that renders her almost completely blind. Still, that hasn’t limited her success. In the 2015, she won silver in the shot put during the Parapan American Games. Though she still runs, she currently works at the Columbian Federation of Athletes with Cerebral Palsy.

20. Yeny Vergas

Disfusión

Though only training for three years before the event, Vargas is a natural born runner. The Peruvian lost her arm due to an accidental electrocution at 5 years-old. The now 21 years-old Paralympian represented Peru in the 2016 Rio game. Though her times didn’t qualify, her tenacity and drive to keep going is definitely an inspiration.


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Learning How To Cope With The Conflict Of My Mother’s Strong Belief In La Calladita And My Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Learning How To Cope With The Conflict Of My Mother’s Strong Belief In La Calladita And My Autism Spectrum Disorder

It’s Christmas 1989. I’m in the back seat of the car wearing a puffy sleeved velvet dress, patent leather shoes, and scratchy lace trimmed socks. And she starts in as usual.

“Remember to stand straight. Don’t fidget. Make eye contact. Kiss everyone hello. Respect your tías and tíos. Have good conversation. Be amenable. Never leave without saying ‘goodbye’ to everyone. Twice. And never forget that ‘good girl’ do not disgrace their families.”

My mother’s mantra.

Being a nine-year-old American Mexican on the border of Mexico when your family’s social circle are upper-class Mexicans made childhood a Byzantine labyrinth to navigate.

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

But there was no option for failure. Good Mexican girls are social. Shyness, awkwardness, and inability to maintain certain standards are not just a sign of weakness, they are absolutely unacceptable and will be addressed when you get home, desgraciada.

I knew I was different from a very young age. There was a litany of ways but all of them related to crippling anxiety. I tried to bring these issues up using my limited vocabulary, but saying, “I don’t feel good,” to my mom over and over ad nauseum only got me the look. So like a baby left to cry in a crib, I learned not to complain anymore.

I sucked it up and internalized my constant discomfort.

It was not that my mother did not care. It was that no one in 1989 knew what autism looked like in young girls. “Rain Man” had just come out the year before. And while Dustin Hoffman’s representation of a grown autistic man raised in an institution was respectful, it also set back the autistic community by creating a trope of what autism looked like. This meant some of us slipped through the cracks of diagnosis.

I am not the only Latinx child to go undiagnosed.

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

According to a 2015 study, Latinx children are diagnosed on average 2.5 years later than white non-Latinx children. Why does this matter? Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) can be reliably diagnosed, and early diagnosis is associated with improved long-term developmental and family outcomes. However, many children who meet the ASD diagnostic criteria are never diagnosed or are diagnosed years after the onset of symptoms. But not only are Latinx children deprived of a timely diagnosis, when they are, but they are also more likely to have severe symptoms than white non-Latinx children. Researchers concluded that underserved Latinx children suffered as a result of parents’ reported low levels of ASD information and high levels of mental health and disability stigma in the Latinx community. Parents had poor access to care due to poverty, limited English proficiency, and lack of empowerment to take advantage of services. Providers sometimes dismissed parents’ concerns. The ASD diagnostic process itself was slow, inconvenient, confusing, and uncomfortable for the child. These factors led many parents to normalize their child’s early behaviors, deny that a problem existed, and lose trust in the medical system.

But back when I was a child, there was no well-known information of ASD among girls, just the extremes that mostly white male children presented with. I did not stutter. I did not have massive breakdowns in public. In general, I presented as normal. But that was not an indicator of having “light” autism. It was that: a) I was a girl and girls on the spectrum are able to adapt better; b) I was highly intelligent so people made allowances for some of my atypical behavior, and c) I was raised to be a good Latina girl and deviation from the ideal was seen as disobedient. There was a lot of spanking. There was a lot of humiliation. And there was a lot of shame.  Now I am an adult. Or so it would seem.

I’m 39, look 25, and sometimes feel 12. But I’m a diagnosed autistic, confirmed at 31 by a diagnostician, who had been quoted in a book I’d read on girls with ASDs, and just happened to live 20 minutes away from my house in Tucson. I am comfortable in my weird skin. I now know that wearing scratchy fabrics, while seemingly inconvenient to most, can lead to a massive breakdown four hours down the road when I have to pick out a bottle of tomato sauce at the grocery stores. The things that set me off are individually insignificant and unrelated but are legion and add up. And I have to live in this neurotypical society where people will not come to my aid if I do break down in the grocery aisle over “nothing.”

You know when you’re watching ducks on a pond and you see the duck gliding along the water, apparently magically floating on the surface? It looks placid. But what you don’t see is that the duck is frantically paddling underwater to keep afloat. I am the duck. The pato.

As an adult with autonomy and agency, I feel enabled to share with friends when an autistic related problem might arise

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

. So now I don’t just say, “I feel bad.” I say to friends, “I can’t bar hop all night through Brooklyn because the lights and the sounds and all the activity that I meter in doses to keep sane overwhelm me.” The response, while kindly meant, is usually dismissive and destructive. “Oh, that bothers you? Me too!” I get it. They’ve occasionally felt something akin to what I go through on a 24-hour basis, no breaks on weekends or bank holidays. They’ve never felt what I’ve felt. They don’t know the severity and they can never know it fully, no matter what words I use. So I just smile.

What I want to say is, “No, not you too.” It is ironic that the empathy I now receive that I needed so badly as a child is what stifles me as an adult. People don’t get it.

If I was weirder, if I broke down in public, if I presented as “autistic,” they would just take my explanation as fact. But because all of that was beaten and shamed out of me as a young Latina, my issues don’t seem so big. All they see is the pato gliding on the water. And while I am grateful for my upbringing that served as informal therapy and my inborn ability to imitate normalcy if never actually been “normal.” There is a part of this 39-year old woman who wants to pull a foot out of the water, show my friends what happens when I stop constantly treading water, and break down in public. But I never do. For exactly the same reason I never kicked off those squeaky patent leather shoes and ripped off my scratchy lace-trimmed socks in the middle of a fancy dress party as a child. Because I was raised a good Latina.

My mother and I have struggled to find peace.

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

In some ways we are more intimately connected than any other two people could be. And, in some ways, her rigidity has meant that she will never come to understand who I am. Just this morning while we were talking, she got frustrated at my very literal answer to her question. “Why do you have to be so…” she searched for the right word. “Autistic?” she asked finally. I couldn’t help but smile. She could have called me obstinant or disrespectful. But she finally knew to attribute my action to the right cause. It’s not just that though. She’s starting to pick up on her own symptoms. This is actually quite common. As parents of a child on the spectrum become acquainted with the common factors of ASDs, they see those factors in themselves and realize that they are also on the spectrum. For my mom and me it took years me of repeating that something I did was common amongst autistics for her to first acknowledge that I even had autism and then for her to realize that she did too.

My mother doesn’t have to be around the corner with a fly swatter or a mean look to make me behave anymore. She’s got a permanent residence in my head. So at the end of the day, what am I to do? I can’t change the outside world any more than I can change my autistic brain or my internalized ethnic identity. So I teach one person at a time about the difference between empathy and compassion. What I tell people is that you may never know what my particular brand of pain feels like, but you can be sure it exists if I’m talking about it. And your compassion in my time of expressed need makes this world a little kinder for us all to walk through. Or waddle, as the case may be.


Read: Walking With The Dead On Día de Los Muertos

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These 20 Latinas in Sports Are Changing The Game And Knocking It Out Of The Park

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These 20 Latinas in Sports Are Changing The Game And Knocking It Out Of The Park

Sports are about so much more than the athletes involved. While they may be the most entertaining part of the whole operation, there are dozens of coaches, managers, announcers, journalists, and even marketing execs that truly bring the experience to life.

Here are 20 Latinas in sports who are making waves off the field.

Rebecca Lobo

Credit: @RebeccaLobo / Twitter

Rebecca Lobo was on a championship-winning basketball team for the University of Connecticut and played basketball for the WNBA for seven years after. Today, the hall of famer is a reporter and color analyst for ESPN, specializing, of course, in women’s college basketball and WNBA games.

Mary Joe Fernandez

Credit: @sapsports / Instagram

Mary Joe Fernandez had an illustrious career as a pro tennis player. She won two Grand Slam doubles tournaments and three Olympic medals, two of which are gold. After retiring from the sport, Fernandez has kept busy. She’s worked as a tennis commentator for ESPN, analyst for CBS Sports and the U.S. Open, and coach for the U.S. Fed Cup and Olympic teams.

Sisleide do Amor Lima

Credit: @coachmarksscc / Twitter

Better known to her fans as Sissi, Sisleide do Amor Lima played for the Brazilian national soccer team, making her debut at just 16. Her career took her to several women’s teams in the U.S. as well. After coaching for FC Gold Pride and various high schools and colleges throughout California, Sissi is now coaching Solano Community College’s team.

Lisa Fernandez

Credit: @lf16ucla / Instagram

Softball legend Lisa Fernandez has won three Olympic gold medals and pitched in all three games. She currently coaches softball at UCLA, her alma mater, and still holds multiple records a the school.

Jessica Mendoza

Credit: @JessMendoza2 / Instagram

Stanford grad and softball player Jessica Mendoza is an analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball She became the first woman commentator for a Major League Baseball game this summer and has continued to call games since then. Mendoza also works as a sideline reporter for college football games.

Elisa Padilla

Credit: @JoeFav / Twitter

Elisa Padilla is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Community Relations for the Miami Marlins. There, Padilla’s challenge is to get fans excited and into the stadium to root for a team that has historically been pretty bad. She’s also taught at New York University and worked as Chief Marketing Officer for the Brooklyn Nets basketball team.

Jessica Priego

Credit: @JPriegoComm / Instagram

After reading an article about the Chicago White Sox’s head of marketing, Jessica Priego called him to ask why the story didn’t mention marketing towards the Latinx population. The bold move helped her land a job, and now, she’s working on her own company, JPriego Communications. The firm focusses on entertainment, travel, fashion, sports, and lifestyle, and she’s adding a new segment to help athletes and celebrities manage their images.

Sabrina Macias

Credit: @FPWellbeing / Twitter

Sabrina Macias has a need for speed. She quickly worked her way up to Director of Marketing Communications for NASCAR, where she helped lead industry-wide Latinx marketing initiatives. Now, Macias thinking bigger as the Senior Director of Global Communications for DraftKings, a fantasy sports betting website.

Suzanne Medina

Credit: @smedina89 / Twitter

Suzanne Medina is the Senior Director of Spanish Content Development and Operations for the MLB. Basically, that means she’s in charge of everything you see in Spanish for the league, from social media and website content to editorial work and marketing. She’s spent her whole career in sports, Spanish-language content, and news, so it’s safe to say she knows what she’s doing.

Christina Alejandre

Credit: @burbunny / Twitter

In case you haven’t heard, videogames are sports now – esports, to be exact. Christina Alejandre recently let her job as the general manager of ELEAGUE, a league of competitive esports gamers that she helped maintain during its first two years in existence. She’s got plenty of experience thanks to prior esports work with Warner Bros., too.

Kelsey Martinez

Credit: @Kelsey_Martinez_ / Instagram

Kelsey Martinez is the first-ever assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders football team. She’s also the only female strength and conditioning coach for any NFL team right now.

Antonietta Collins

Credit: @AntoniettaESPN / Instagram

Mexican-American Antonietta Collins has journalism in her blood. Her mom, Maria Antonieta Collins, is an award-winning TV host and journalist. Antonietta currently works as a news anchor for ESPN’s famed SportsCenter show.

Claudia Trejos

Credit: @ClaudiaTrejos / Twitter

Claudia Trejos does it all. She’s been an ESPN boxing commentator, NASCAR sideline reporter, onsite reporter for the X Games, and Spanish-language analyst for NBA games. She’s even covered dominoes matches. Prior to her work at ESPN, Trejos was a the sports anchor for your mami’s favorite show: Al Rojo Vivo.

Julia Morales

Credit: @JuliaMorales / Twitter

For seven seasons, Julia Morales has been searching for stories on the sidelines of Houston Astros games. She’s been a sports reporter for her whole career, beginning with coverage at local news stations.

Marysol Castro

Credit: @MarysolCastroTV / Instagram

If you happen to go to a Mets game at Citi Field, you’ll definitely hear Marysol Castro’s voice. She’s the PA announcer at the team’s home park, announcing the lineup and alerting fans to other important info. Castro is the first woman to hold the job for the team.

Linda Alvarado

Credit: @BankOnDC / Twitter

Linda Alvarado founded the Alvarado Construction company and remains the sole owner of the endeavor. Then, she bought herself a baseball team. Alvarado is the co-owner of the Colorado Rockies, and she’s the first Latinx person to own a team. The bid also made her the first woman to even place one for an MLB team.

Monica Gonzalez

Credit: @MonicaGonzo / Twitter

Monica Gonzalez played for Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, the Mexican national soccer team, and Boston’s pro soccer team. Two days after Team Mexico let her go, she became a studio analyst for ESPN. Gonzalez has also worked as a sideline reporter for Major League Soccer and the UEFA Champions League, the only woman to do so in 2016. Her non-profit, Gonzo Soccer Academy, teaches Latinas to play soccer and gain valuable life skills.

Melissa Gonzalez

Credit: @MGonzalez13 / Instagram

No relation to Monica up above, Melissa Gonzalez played for the U.S. Olympic field hockey team after switching from soccer in high school. Now, she’s the assistant field hockey coach at Wake Forest University.

Sandy Nunez

Credit: @snuinla / Twitter

Sandy Nunez is the long-standing coordinating producer for ESPN. She’s responsible for overseeing national content and production of the channel’s flagship SportsCenter program, a huge role that she’s filled for over a decade.

Marly Rivera

Credit: @MarlyRiveraESPN / Twitter

Mary Rivera is a bilingual writer and reporter for ESPN and ESPN Deportes, as well as the radio stations for each channel. She’s covered the New York Yankees for most of her career, frequently contributes to ESPN SportsCenter, and even had her own podcast with SportsCenter anchor Max Bretos.

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