Winter Olympics 2018: From Brazil’s favelas to PyeongChang

He would work after faculty, washing vehicles and packing groceries. Not often would the 13-year-old make eye contact with the elite whose automobiles he would polish and clear. Shoulders slumped, he felt like a beggar.

Like most youngsters in his nation, the Brazilian had wished to be knowledgeable footballer. He performed daily, attended soccer faculties, however because the years glided by his ambitions of reaching fame and fortune on the pitch grew to become an unattainable dream.

At 15, he gave up on schooling, gave up on soccer, and washing vehicles close to town’s college grew to become his commerce. He had to work. Because the third oldest of seven youngsters, the household wanted cash to survive.

Enter Leandro Ribela, a two-time winter Olympian who wished to change lives.

In 2012, the previous cross-country skier started a social mission known as Ski na Rua [Skiing on the Street] educating youngsters from the favelas in his native Sao Paolo to ski.

His goal was not to create Olympians, however to give underprivileged youngsters new experiences, to mix curler snowboarding with schooling. He yearned for a extra egalitarian world. He wished to give youngsters hope.

5 years later, on a frigid February day in Peyongchang, Santos, now 20, is snugly wearing his nation’s colours with Ribela in addition to him.

On Friday, February 16, the boy who used to wash vehicles for a residing will make his Olympic debut, representing Brazil in cross-country snowboarding within the males’s 15-kilometer free.

Santos continues to be in awe of his environment. Typically he’ll stare on the athletes he’s extra accustomed to watching on tv as they stroll by within the Olympic village.

“I strive not to ask to take an image, I strive not to disturb them as a result of I do know they’re centered,” says Santos in Portuguese.

“However being right here with them makes them appear extra actual. They appear so huge on TV, and though they’re actually sturdy, they’re regular individuals as properly – however then once I see them ski it is like they’re on TV once more!”

Ever since he arrived in South Korea, touring from Italy the place he has spent over two months coaching which helped him acclimatize to the below-freezing temperatures in Pyeongchang, the Brazilian has been absorbing data.

He is watched his heroes intently in coaching, making word of their preparation, routines and gear.

“For certain I am studying, I am actually paying consideration, however crucial factor I’ve discovered will not be the approach, however extra the expertise I had on the opening ceremony, listening to individuals discuss Olympic values,” says Santos, one in every of 9 Brazilians competing at these Video games.

He smiles as he remembers listening to his nation’s title being introduced over the Olympic Stadium’s sound system. That, he says, was the very best second of the bone-chilling night.

“I used to be calm earlier than we walked out,” he says, shyly smiling. “However I wasn’t anticipating the stadium to be that huge. After I entered and noticed how many individuals have been there, then I used to be excited.

“Listening to John Lennon’s ‘Think about’ being sung was particular, too, as I do know that track and, in fact, when the torch was lit — I used to watch that on TV — I used to be in one other world, I used to be simply blown away.”

"The young kids were paying a lot of attention to what I was doing and trying to do the same"

Santos, earmarked as a possible Winter Olympian by the Brazilian Snow Sports activities Federation after posting promising occasions throughout a coaching camp in Chile funded by Ski na Rua, has had to make sacrifices to obtain his Olympic dream, forsaking nights out with buddies for coaching.

He’s additionally juggling snowboarding with faculty work. He’ll graduate from highschool in two months having returned to schooling as a part of a pact with the mission in trade for its continued assist.

It was solely two years in the past that Santos made a concerted effort to qualify for PyeongChang 2018, the primary, he hopes, of many Olympics, and now that he’s in South Korea he sees himself for example to others.

victor santos

“After I began competing abroad, the younger youngsters have been paying a number of consideration to what I used to be doing and attempting to do the identical,” says Santos, whose house continues to be within the São Remo favela of 15,000 inhabitants.

“My family and friends are very glad, sending me messages each single second, saying persons are watching me on TV.

“After qualification was confirmed, I acquired a number of media consideration, which I used to be shocked about. I believed the press would not have an interest as a result of it is winter sports activities.

“I hope the game retains rising and I hope that this may present those that snowboarding does not want to be an elite sport, that solely individuals with cash can apply.”

The 37-year-old former Olympian Ribela combines his duties as Brazil’s nationwide ski coach with managing the Ski na Rua mission, now a non-governmental group (NGO).

Having began the mission along with his buddy, a working coach, initially serving to 4 youngsters from the favelas — one in every of them was Santos’ oldest brother who has additionally represented Brazil on the slopes — Ski na Rua now has 95 youngsters, starting from the ages of six to 21, below its umbrella.

“Within the first 12 months it was only a group of individuals serving to however now we’re extra structured,” says Ribela, who competed in cross-country snowboarding on the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

“That is solely step one. Hopefully we are able to replicate the success of this mission in different favelas.

“We wish to use Olympic values to open alternatives. We’re not there to put together them for top efficiency. However every thing is free — free curler ski classes, free working classes and we additionally strive to do cultural actions, like language classes.

“However in addition they have to research as properly. They don’t seem to be supposed to drop out of college till they’re 18. If they’re dropping out, it is normally as a result of there’s one thing occurring at house, for instance, so we give them six months to get issues organized to return to faculty.

“They face many social difficulties. Children drop out of college too early to assist their households, they’ve issues with drug sellers, women fall pregnant too younger. There’s a number of social issues. It is an city slum.”

"My friends and family are very happy, sending me messages every single second"
"Hearing John Lennon's 'Imagine' being sung was special"
"Skiing doesn't need to be an elite sport"

Ribela says his life has all the time been guided by the Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence and his want to move them on to others.

“I used to practice on the College the place the mission takes place. I used to go there for curler snowboarding and I used to see these youngsters taking care of vehicles, promoting bottles of water.

“To me, it was unusual that the children, who have been supposed to be doing sports activities with their buddies, have been working. It all the time bothered me.

“We began the mission in 2012 and in a short while we noticed a giant distinction of their habits. Earlier than, they seemed down, they weren’t assured or proud in themselves as a result of they have been form of begging for cash.

“However no-one is aware of about curler snowboarding in Brazil and so, after some time, they have been educating the wealthy individuals what it was about.

“It modified their confidence, they have been extra pleased with themselves and so we determined that we should always set up this mission and supply a whole package deal of different social issues that they will be taught and take these values and use them in school, at work and with their households.”

It has been fairly a journey for each Santos and Ribela, but their journey has solely actually simply begun.

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