At the age of 19, Gabriel Geraldo Araújo dos Santos brought his smile to light the Tokyo-2020 Paralympic Games and, as he says, “ready for any challenge”. A swimmer in the S2 class (athletes with physical and motor limitations), he started with silver in the 100m backstroke, in a time of 2min02s47, only behind Chilean Alberto Albarza, who closed the race in 2min00s40. Gabrielzinho, as he is known on the Brazilian swimming team that has three more “Gabriéis”, returns to compete on Saturday night (28), swimming the 200m backstroke qualifiers. Afterwards, they will dispute the 50m backstroke, which have qualifiers on Wednesday night (1st).
When he says “swimming changed my life”, the phrase is literal. Born in Santa Luiz, Minas Gerais, he was born with shortened arms and legs, and it was in Corinto that he started going to a backyard swimming pool. Asked if he knew how to swim by Physical Education teacher Aguilar Freitas, he found himself enrolled in school games. With three gold medals won, he never stopped, because the sport was the best that ever happened to him, as he claims.
“Friendship and experience”, in the words of another namesake —Gabriel Schumamm— ended up paving Gagbrielzinho’s career among the Paralympics. Schumamm, a swimmer in the S8 class (between 1 and 10 are athletes with physical limitations and the greater the disability, the lower the number), says that he met Gabrielzinho in 2015, participating in competitions from Minas Gerais.
“I was impressed with his cheerful way, without coach, without anything, wanting to achieve something. I was beside a person who motivated me, who gave me joy to everyone, who inspired me a lot. The family had a difficult condition. his mother, Dona Eneida, had to go from door to door for him to be able to travel. We gave him a ride, lent him a cap, glasses. And the friendship grew and he started to stand out.”
Schumamm and Manuela Ribeiro, a Manu, from the S10 class, participated in an Open in 2019, at the São Paulo Paralympic Center, by Clube Bom Pastor, from Juiz de Fora, when they spoke about Gabriel Araújo to coach Fábio Antunes. It was an international competition and the swimmer who had just turned 17 didn’t even know it.
changing to train
Now, it’s Fábio who tells us: “We exchanged an idea, and he asked to join the club. He asked for support, which he didn’t have on a daily basis. Seeing his potential, I took Gabrielzinho to train with me. At first, some days. Today he trains three hours a day, weight training twice a week. The club has a whole multidisciplinary team, with a physiotherapist, a doctor.”
Gabriel Araújo moved with his mother to Juiz de Fora. And this part of the story is with Luiz Gustavo Micherif, president of Clube Bom Pastor. “The Fábio who showed up with him. A boy who always wanted to be an athlete and had no support. It was a great empathy, because help is needed for bathing, meals. of the apartment that is leased in partnership by a construction company, Rezato. It also has a grant.”
Also in 2019, at Parapan de Lima, Peru, Gabrielzinho already had two gold medals, one silver and two bronze.
Micherif says that Bom Pastor is, in Brazil, the best “low class” club—in the case of Paralympics, athletes with more severe disabilities. “We took this belt naturally. We decided to give these athletes a chance, try to work with them and see if it worked. We now have 15 athletes, some of them Brazilian medalists, with a focus on swimming.”
club has tradition
The Good Shepherd, which dates back to the 1950s, maintains a tradition of training athletes, says Micherif, who was sports director until he assumed the presidency last November. “From the club came, for example, André Nascimento, Giovane Gávio, volleyball, who later went to Sesc, Minas, Cruzeiro. We invest a lot. We are a purely sporting club and 100% maintained with monthly fees from our members, which are around 800, 850. Expenses are high and we are adapting our statute, seeking partnerships and sponsors”.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, newcomer Gabriel Geraldo Araújo explains that it is difficult to recognize the disabled person, who is often looked at differently, with rejection. But he tries to bring joy to motivate those around him. About his participation in the pool, he explains: for not having arms, but a very strong body, nothing “waving”, using “everything I have”: legs, chest, head. And already anticipated: “I’m going to win a medal and dance!”