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"Neither the wheelchair nor my disability has ever determined who I am" - Teresa Perales

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By Andrew Robini
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"Neither the wheelchair nor my disability has ever determined who I am" - Teresa Perales
Copyright  euronews

If you've followed the Paralympic Games throughout recent years, you would have certainly heard of Teresa Perales, Spain’s most decorated Paralympian with a staggering 27 career medals to her name. From losing the use of her legs at the age of 19 to becoming a swimming legend, Teresa has inspired many along the way and euronews got an exclusive interview with her just after she was awarded a Princess of Asturias Award for Sports.

Where do you get your resilience, your inner strength from?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"The strength comes from inside, it's motivation. It's all very well being motivated by others and being told "come on Teresa, you can do it!" but when you are training, you train alone and you don't have people cheering you on, so it is important that every one of us finds their inner strength and understands why they do things. I’m doing it because I like it, because I am passionate about it, because I love to compete because I love to win and I always dream about the possibility of getting onto that podium."

A few years ago you wrote a book called 'The Strength of a Dream' in which you talk about not only training yourself physically but also emotionally. Can you train emotions?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"Of course and in fact, it is essential and even more so for athletes. You have to think that we dedicate 4 years of our life to maybe 30 seconds, which is how long one of our competitions can take. Being able to manage emotions, especially fear, stress and panic is very difficult and it is a job that has to be done every day for many years. There are many tools, many techniques, everyone uses the ones that suit them and I have been working with mine since Athens and the truth is that I have done quite well so far, judging by the results."

At 19 your life changed completely, but you bounced back. What would you say to a young person facing the same obstacle?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"Well, I would tell them that they have their lives ahead of them, fortunately, they have their whole lives ahead of them. I’d say they have to learn to do things in a different way, sometimes it is very complicated and you think that the world has ended and that it is impossible, but well, from my experience, of course, what I can add is that nothing is impossible in this life. It’s a question of will and I’ve always said determination can move mountains and it is true. My experience has led me to do things that the average person you’d meet on the street would never have thought of doing. I have pushed myself because I wanted to do so and the wheelchair has accompanied me. Neither the wheelchair nor my disability has ever determined who I am as a person, you know, it is simply a companion that I carry on my journey and that accompanies me at all times."

Why did you choose swimming?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"Because it was cheaper than athletics! I really liked athletics, the speed and seeing them with their wheelchairs, these special ones made for speed but it was much more expensive and in the summer I had also been swimming with a life jacket and doing my first stroke. I realised I liked the feeling of floating. I liked the freedom I felt in the water when I moved and then when I got into the pool I said “I want to do this I want to learn to swim”. I just wanted to swim well, I didn't intend on competing but one thing led to another and in the end, I saw that the stopwatch was stopping earlier and earlier and I really liked it so I started to compete."

Have you ever thought of quitting this sport?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"Yes, many times.. many times! I've been doing this for many years. I’ve been competing for 24 years so it’s normal that throughout this long career, you have moments when you feel like quitting because you think "I can't, I'm not capable, this is too much for me, it's costing me too much." Even more so when you are a mother and you’re training at the same time. Sometimes your professional life absorbs you too much and there have been times when I have been tempted to quit but all I had to do was to look back and think of the beautiful moments I have experienced whilst competing. These memories helped me to say "I'm not quitting, I'm carrying on."

How do you balance your family life with sport?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"With Google calendar! I always have to take into account the family calendar, extracurriculars, the school calendar, my husband's work calendar, my competitions, my training, my work calendar. Well, it's a bit complicated, it's almost like playing Tetris sometimes, but you can do it and if you’re well organised, in the end, you have time for everything."

This year you have been awarded the Princess of Asturias Award for Sports is it a dream come true?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"It is a dream come true! It seemed like I was the eternal candidate! For many years, my candidacy had been on the table and I had never won and this year they finally awarded it to me and the truth is that I was very surprised because I didn't know this would happen so when I received the phone call, I saw an unknown number on my mobile phone and I knew that the jury had met and that it was the day the decision was made so at that moment I thought "look, at this time of the day they must be calling the award winners hahaha" and I picked up the phone and heard: "Teresa, I'm calling you from the Princess of Asturias Foundation. ..." and then my heart was pounding."

Does Teresa Perales ever lose her smile?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"Well sometimes... hardly ever though or maybe when I sleep! No, but seriously it's not worth losing your smile, it's nice to smile and it's contagious. When you smile, the person in front of you smiles back and in the end, it’s like giving someone a present."

Thank you for your time and we’ll see you in 2024 at the Paris Games?

Teresa Perales, Paralympic champion:

"We’ll always have Paris."