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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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