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Princess of Asturias Award for Sports 2021
Members of the Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When in 1995 I heard the words “you are never going to walk again”, who could have told me that the path I would travel along with my wheelchair was going to bring me here today!
Of course, not the neighbour who stopped my mother and me on the street when I finally decided to overcome my fears and shame, to accept what was happening to me and go back out in public. No, she was never going to tell me that Most likely with the best intentions in the world, she turned to my mother and, as if I did not exist, said, “Poor little girl, what happened to her?” In just a second and a glance, I had stopped being the girl from the third floor and became “Sebi’s poor little daughter”.
Of course, that neighbour wasn't going to tell me. For her, my life was over before it had even started. For us, life simply continued along on a path different than the one planned. My mother Sebi was always sure that I had a certain destination to reach, that I was not going to always remain under the protection of her wing. She has always been by my side.
- “Mum, I want to swim in the pool.” And she rushed right out to buy a life jacket and then literally threw me into the pool and jumped in herself.
Who could have told me then that I would still be swimming 24 years later and that I was going to win 27 Paralympic medals! Not even my coach could have imagined it, I’m sure, when he told me I was a diamond in the rough that simply needed polishing. I never knew whether my mother doubted it or if she even imagined it because she never told me “you cannot, you shouldn’t, don’t persist, you won’t manage to do it”.
- “Mum, I’m going to be a member of parliament,” and she said, “If that’s what you want, do it.”
- “Mum, I’m going to write a book” and she said, “If it makes you happy, go ahead.”
And so on with all the projects over these years, even the craziest ones to do with a chair stuck to your backside. For instance:
- “Mum, I’m going to go to the Sahara Desert to take the Saharawis cans of sardines in a four-wheel drive truck.” And she said, “Let’s come up with something so you can go to the toilet in the dunes.”
Who could also have told us how much society has changed! In the case of disability, what’s more, for the better. The way my neighbour looks at me is probably not the same anymore. Or rather, the way so many neighbours look at me is no longer the same. There are more accessible entrances, fewer shops with steps at the door, even a Law on Dependency. We undoubtedly have to continue to do better and it is clear that we are still not an ideal society, but now at least we realize it and there are many, though not all, of us who strive to make things better and move forward towards achieving equality for all people.
For this reason, I would like to take advantage of this podium to tell children and those who are not so young that we must not wait for someone to tell us what is going to happen or what we should do. You have to plan for it or dream about it yourself. Decide what you want to do and go for it. With determination. Without letting obstacles prevent you from at least trying. And along the way, surround ourselves with people, friends, those who always tell you, like my mother, “I am here for you.” So, even if the destination is different from the one you imagined, the journey will have been worth it.
Thank you very much.
Translated by Paul Barnes.
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