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Princess of Asturias Award for Sports 2021
María Teresa Perales Fernández was born on 29th December 1975 in Zaragoza (Spain). A lover of sports since childhood, she practiced karate until, at the age of 19, she lost the use of her legs due to a neuropathy. She graduated in Physiotherapy and studied professional coaching, at the same time as she found a new sport in which to compete, namely swimming. Since 1998, she has formed part of the swimming elite and is one of the most decorated Paralympic athletes still competing.
An example of the ability to overcome obstacles for millions of people with disabilities around the world and an icon of international Paralympic sport, Teresa Perales began her career in adapted swimming in 1997 by participating in her first Spanish Championship, where she won both a gold and a bronze medal. Holder of several Spanish records and numerous medals in national championships, Perales has won a total of 43 medals (12 gold, 21 silver and 10 bronze) in the 1999, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2021 European Championships. During her participation in the 1998, 2002, 2006, 2015, 2017 and 2019 World Championships, she broke 5 world records and won 22 medals (4 gold, 10 silver and 5 bronze). In the Paralympic Games held in Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 –in which she was the standard bearer for the Spanish team–, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, she won a total of 27 medals (7 gold, 10 silver and 10 bronze). After participating in Beijing, she was elected to the Athletes’ Council of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), serving on said council until 2016.
She has also held various public offices, such as Member of the Aragón Regional Parliament for the Aragonese Party (PAR), Director General for Dependent Adult Care of the Regional Government of Aragón, advisor both to the Department of Social Services and Family Support and to the Department for Development and Sport of the Zaragoza City Council. She has likewise formed part of the group of experts that drew up the 2010-2020 Comprehensive Plan for physical activity and sport in Spain and collaborates with various NGOs. She has published the books Mi vida sobre ruedas [My Life On Wheels] (2007), written together with her husband, and La fuerza de un sueño [The Strength of a Dream] (2014), and participated in the collective work Cuentos para ser felices ¡por narices! [Tales to Be Happy… No Matter What!] (2014).
Holder of an honorary degree from Miguel Hernández University (Elche, 2017), Perales is a member of Spain’s Royal Order of Sports Merit in the Bronze, Gold and Grand Cross categories. She has also been distinguished with numerous awards, including the Sports Merit medals from both the Government of Aragón (2000) and Zaragoza City Council (2004). She is a “Favourite Daughter” of the city of Zaragoza and, in 2008, received the Defender and Heroine Medal from the Sieges of Zaragoza Foundation. She has also received the Best Paralympic Athlete Award granted by the sports newspaper AS (2008), the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents Award (2013), the Living Legend Award granted by the sports newspaper Marca (2015), the Spanish National Sports Championships Infanta Sofía Award (2016), the Gold Medal for Merit at Work (2017) and the Olympic Order of the Spanish Olympic Committee (2019). She is also a member of the advisory board of the Princess of Girona Foundation, an ambassador for the Telefónica Foundation, the face for the Renault Foundation for sustainable mobility and inclusion, and a trustee of the Sanitas Foundation.
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