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Gladys Sanchez, an example of leadership to the world

Copyrights: Gladys Sanchez

Gladys Sanchez, an example of leadership to the world

Gladys Sanchez is the first Colombian female para-powerlifter. Hear her story.

“I am from Garzón, Huila, a place in the Colombian countryside which is about nine hours by car from Bogotá. My family worked in agriculture, while my eight siblings and I would go to school and practice sports, which in my case was basketball. During my childhood, I had cancer - that is how I ended up moving to Bogotá and became the first Colombian Para-powerlifting female representative. This is my story.

“In 2000, after running some tests, I was getting ready for surgery. When I entered the operating room, the doctors told me they were going to amputate my leg, but they never told me what disease I had. I was in shock. It is those kinds of moments when there is nothing that can help you calming down. After the surgery, they explained that I had cancer in my bones. They gave me three months to live, and said that chemotherapy would be done to control my pain.

“My father was with me for only two months, since he had to go back home to take care of my other siblings. He decided to leave me in the care a foundation. Due to the distance, I never received calls or visits. I don’t know what was harder at that point: the amputation, having cancer, or facing everything by myself.

“When I was offered to practice para-powerlifting, I wasn’t convinced about it. But one day, I told to myself: `I am going to try it and see how far I can get’. After a month of training, I was representing Bogotá. At that time there were no women doing para-powerlifting at a national level, and that was uncomfortable because I had to compete in the men’s round. However, something I have learned is that powerlifting is more about concentration and mental strength rather than physical power; therefore, it isn’t necessarily only for men.

“Later in my career, I competed with conventional athletes and I also beat them. I qualified for the Rio Olympics, but could not go because I was pregnant. I do not regret not attending, my baby is better than a medal. Nevertheless, I was the first woman that promoted and practiced para-powerlifting in Colombia. In fact, in the beginning, I would compete against my own records, since there was no other para-athlete that competed against me.

“I overcame cancer in 2009. I even went to the National Games having one chemotherapy session left. Personally, I did not like to leave my house because of how people stigmatized me. My loved ones told me that I had to go out and face reality. In that sense, sports helped me a lot in the processes of accepting my new life, even though, at the beginning I suffered because everyone would see my scar through the outfit I use in para-powerlifting. Without sports I would have never gone out to the streets.

“I have been working for ten years for a supermarket called Cencosud. I train in the aquatic complex – initially, it was difficult for me to get space there, since they only support conventional sports. In Colombia, people and institutions should give more value to Paralympic athletes. I dream of giving my daughter the best opportunities and to continue growing as person and as an athlete. I want to go to a World Cup again and I dream about going to the Olympics.”

Gladys’s story is an example of overcoming barriers in life using sport as a tool for it. We wanted to tell her story first, because we think it is important that the world acknowledges that there are people like Gladys who are examples of leadership, tenacity, and love for life. Her story needs to be known to inspire and promote different leadership styles that can help the world become a better place.

As a platform that promotes inclusion and equality, Honiball Humans portrays the diversity of female leadership. We feel that by sharing this Paralympic female athlete’s stories, not only will we help highlight their greatness, but we also want to address the discrimination they suffer on a daily basis.

In Gladys’s case, she suffers intersectional discrimination as a woman and a person with disabilities. We believe that the main challenges that these athletes and the organizations that support them are facing have to do with the lack of inclusion and opportunities.

To overcome that, we want to lead by example. By giving them the same space for them to share their stories in our platform as we give to any other athlete, they feel included and heard. By telling their experiences we believe we are challenging our society, by using sports to change those discriminatory and exclusionary beliefs.

Our aim is to promote Paralympic athletes as equals and give them the space to become role models for young and older people. We believe that sports reflect of our society in which athletes with disabilities should have the same opportunities and recognition as any other human being.

Laura Torres and Santiago Gallo are the co-founders of Honiball Humans, an organization that promotes women leadership through sports under the values of inclusion, equality, empathy and diversity. Find them on Instagram: @Honiball_humans 


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Laura Torres & Santiago Gallo


Monday, November 23, 2020 - 18:07