Flavio is one of the thousands of landmine victims in Colombia. He lost a leg, but thanks to support from Handicap International, he is completely mobile and independent. Now a fulltime para-athelete, Flavio is competing to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in swimming.
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 Handicap International 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 Handicap International. “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 Handicap International. 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 Handicap International also had an unexpected life-altering impact. Handicap International 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.”
Handicap International 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.
“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.”