A pool of opportunities

photo: Casilda Lantero Tornos at the pool of Club Náutico / MAYE G. BATELLI / GINA APPERSON

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Three Paralympic swimmers from Club Náutico de Sevilla (Seville Yacht Club) speak of their successes and dreams, while inspiring OTHERS and defending the importance of their sport.

Enter the pool area, sit down and watch as the swimmers go up and down the lanes, rhythmically and elegantly exhibiting with each stroke a well-refined technique. There is a mixture of chaos and discipline in a place that to many may only seem noisy, hot and humid, but is nothing less than home to a competitive swimmer.

Here you will find a committed athlete, ready to swim in each training session for two hours without rest. “I remember the first time I entered the pool, I cried. It deeply impacted me,” comments the open and talkative Casilda Lantero Tornos, one of the Paralympic swimmers of the Club Náutico de Sevilla who is in constant pursuit of her dreams. Casilda has reduced mobility in the left part of her body due a spine malformation at birth and competes in the S7 category in championship modified swim meetings all over Spain. At only 18, she is already the Spanish Paralympic champion in the 200-meter backstroke and also holds the national record of her category with a time of 3:59.64.

To keep her rhythm, she dedicates a large part of her life to swimming training every afternoon. Casilda insists that each training session is necessary not only to get better, but also to not fall behind. “If you miss a day…well…it’s terrible. It’s very difficult.” Each missed practice negatively affects her technique. Although she sacrifices a lot of time, Casilda also emphasizes how much swimming helps her in her everyday life. “I have two hours each day to relax. I believe that swimming teaches you to relax and be disciplined… I don’t think about studies, everything leaves my mind.”

Her main goal right now is to compete at a higher level. First, she wants to go to a European Paralympic championship. Later on, she hopes to compete globally. Casilda dreams to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio do Janeiro or in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but she has many more concrete goals for the future. When she finishes high school, she hopes to obtain a grant to study Sports Science and train at Madrid’s High Performance Center of the Superior Sports Council. She would also like to learn English and spend a period of time in the United States, specifically in New York City, because she thinks that a knowledge of English is fundamental in getting a job. Later on, she would like to be a physical education teacher and work as a swim coach.

Rafael Palmero Villena, 18 years-old, shares the pool with Casilda and the rest of the swimmers at the Club Náutico de Sevilla. Arriving in a wheelchair does not stop him from making waves when he gets in the water. Just like his friend, he too participates in modified swimming races, in the S4 category, and trains on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Rafael has big dreams for the future and isn’t going to waste a minute. He enjoys a busy life, and although he dedicates a lot of time to swimming, he also reserves time to be with his friends, with whom he enjoys listening to music like David Guetta and Avicii. He likes to DJ at their parties as well. This is only in moderation, because school is his main priority. “If I have exams, I don’t go. Training is fundamental, but school is school… I leave a half an hour early if I have something to do… I need to study a lot.” Rafael wants to finish his Law degree at college, which takes 4 years to complete. After, he wants to obtain a master’s degree to become a notary, which is at least another year and a half of schooling.

In December 2013, he won the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the Andalusia Paralympic Championship of El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, in the category S4. His specialties include the 200, 400 and 500-meter freestyle races and the 200 and 400-meter backstroke races. He would like to move on to compete at an international level, first in a European championship and later on in the Olympics, for which he trains very hard. “I would like to be there in 2016… it won’t be an easy journey, but I will fight for it.”

Marta Gómez Battelli, the 2013 400-meter freestyle runner-up at the International Paralympic Swimming world championship in Montreal, in the category S13 for swimmers with mild visual impairments, is the role model of Casilda, Rafael, and the rest of the swimmers at Club Náutico de Sevilla. This 22-year-old Seville native studies Social Work at the Complutense University of Madrid and trains at the High Performance Center of the Superior Sports Council, where she spends six hours a day in the pool: three in the morning and three in the afternoon.

She was 12 years old when she started swimming, and 18 when she began competing internationally for the Spanish national swim team, with whom she participated in the world championship in Montreal and in the 2012 London Olympics, racing in the 200 and 100-meter breaststroke series. Her goal is to return to the Olympic Games in 2016 and be able to stand on the podium. Not in vain, swimming is one of the few sports that have been a part of the Paralympic games since the very beginning, which took place in Rome in 1960.

Marta comments on what she has learned from being in the atmosphere of the pool thanks to her extensive experience in competing. “My rivals are my teammates and also my friends… there is a very good environment because, although everyone is out to win, we are always happy for each other and cheer for each other. You enjoy your successes and also those of everyone else.”

Despite the high level of its athletes , modified swimming is essentially an unrecognized sport, not only in Spain, but also throughout the whole world. According to Rafael, modified swimming is very separate from the rest of society and from the sports world in general. “The champions don’t receive the attention they deserve for the medals they win,” he comments. Marta resents that there are such devoted athletes, like herself, who train so much, but at times remain unknown. This world runner-up is a passionate fighter for equality for Paralympic athletes. “We don’t like that the fact remains that we are disabled athletes: we are athletes, just like any other athlete, and we would like to be seen as that and given the same recognition.”