From landmine victim to pro athlete
Flavio is one of thousands of mine victims in Colombia. He lost his leg, but can move independently thanks to the prosthesis he received from Humanity & Inclusion. And his steps often lead him to the pool, because Flavio is a competitive swimmer who is seeking Paralympic participation.
Flavio at the Olympic swimming pool complex in Medellín | © Bas Bogaerts / HI
It’s early morning in Medellin, Colombia, but the pools at Complejo Acuatico outdoor aquatics complex are already full with swimmers. In one of the pools, ten swimmers race back and forth doing the breaststroke and butterfly as a coach calls out instructions. A collection of wheelchairs and prosthetic legs rest by the side of the pool.
One of the prosthetic legs along the side belongs to Flavio, 33, a Humanity & Inclusion beneficiary. In 2000, he lost his left leg after he stepped on a landmine in a field where he was working. The accident happened in Putumayo, a region plagued with conflict between armed opposition groups, the army, and criminal gangs. The ground there is riddled with landmines, which are a daily threat to local people.
Several years after his accident, Flavio moved to Medellin seeking better care for his leg and met Humanity & Inclusion. “When I first arrived I was using a makeshift prosthesis that was held together with band aids and tape,” says Flavio. “I got my current prosthetic leg from Humanity & Inclusion. It is finally a proper prosthetic leg that allows me to be completely mobile. Thanks to my prosthesis, I can drive the motorcycle and get around on my own. It changed my entire life.”
The rehabilitation sessions Flavio performed with Humanity & Inclusion also had an unexpected life-altering impact. Humanity & Inclusion Physical Therapist Yanrieth encouraged Flavio to start swimming as part of his rehabilitation. He took this advice, hasn’t stopped swimming since.
On the Path to the Paralympics
“Swimming made me feel better, both physically and mentally, and I gradually increased the intensity of my training,” says Flavio. “In 2013, I made a decision: I would train and compete full time in order to qualify to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.”
Humanity & Inclusion stepped in to support Flavio when he hadn’t yet received the sport subsidies he needed to attend an important qualification event. Flavio came in first place at the event, which secured him a place in the national championship, and brought him a step closer to the Paralympic Games.
© Bas Bogaerts / HI
“It is now or never,” says Flavio. “The Paralympics only take place once every four years. Four years from now, my physical capacity will probably be less than it is now. If I don’t make it into the selection now, I will try again one last time next year.”
“I still find it difficult to think about the accident that brought me to this point, but thanks to the swimming, I move on a little bit every day. I consider myself very lucky to have discovered swimming. The water cures me. The swimming pool is the best psychologist I could ever imagine.”