Paracanoe: sport as a way of overcoming obstacles

The canoeing section of the Club de Mar Mallorca is a pioneer in the Balearic Islands in the integration of people with disabilities.

At Club de Mar Mallorca we have always emphasised the role of sport as a way of life-long learning and cementing of values. We see sport as a philosophy of life and a desire to excel. If there is somebody who exemplifies this attitude and drive better than anybody else, it is no doubt the  paracanoe paddlers on our team.

Just a few days ago at their annual gala, the Royal Spanish Canoe Federation dedicated the Values Award to Ismael Uali, the national coordinator of the paracanoe section. The award-winning coach explained that we have to change our mindset in order to understand that “it is not a question of people with disabilities doing sports. They are athletes with some disability”.

The Club de Mar has been a pioneer in the Balearic Islands, together with the Real Club Náutico de Palma, in the integration of disabled athletes in the sport of canoeing. Currently, the team of paracanoists is made up of four athletes: Jana Mestre, the most veteran of the section, Carlos Angulo, Alejandro Martí and Tim Vergara, who started practising sport as a child at the Club de Mar school. All except Alejandro, who is the latest addition, have already had the opportunity to participate in some competitions.

Ginés Cerdán, head of the canoeing section of the Club de Mar, explains: “Each one has a different objective: some want to participate in high level competitions, others want to practice sport and improve their muscle tone. Some simply enjoy doing a physical activity in the nature, at sea, on an island with nine or ten months of good weather that is suitable for this sport.  It is a good combination as much for people with disabilities as for anyone else”.

This diversity of goals also has a common benefit for all of them, as summarized by the technician: “Once they sit in the canoe, they leave the disability to one side. From the outside, nobody sees a person with a disability, but a person who is paddling, just like anyone else”.

Carlos Angulo stresses this aspect: “There are many injuries or disabilities that do not pose any impediment in the canoe. It is sufficient to be able to hold on well in the boat and keep the balance”. In addition to paracanoeing, Carlos practices sailing and cycling. He started kayaking a couple of years ago after taking a beginners’ course in Zaragoza and subsequenty joined the Club de Mar team. In his opinion, “what makes the difference in this club, is the technicians. There might be more conveniences elsewhere, but the input of Ginés and Gisele is priceless”.

The technician Gisele Corte offers a radical example of how inclusive canoeing is for people with disabilities: “In the last world sea kayaking championships in Portugal, a blind Brazilian athlete took part. He was simply accompanied by a guide in another boat and completed the same 16 kilometres of navigation as everybody else”.

Jana Mestre is the most experienced and successful of the Club de Mar’s paracanoists. She won the bronze medal at the 2015 European Championships in Racize, in the Czech Republic, and also participated in the World Championships in Milan the same year. At the time she used to row sprint, but when she  joined Club de Mar, she turned to long-distance events: “In the sprint competition you train for months and then compete only for minutes, but I actually enjoy longer distances more”. Mestre remembers her medal in the Czech Republic with special pride, as she is originally from that country and had the great satisfaction that her parents could see her on the podium in a top level competition: “For them it was a great reward because they saw that thanks to my situation I was able to fulfil the dream of my sporting life”.

For his part, Alejandro Martí is the most recent addition to the paracanoe section of Club de Mar as he has been practising this sport for just over a year: “After my accident I liked rowing on a rowing machine in a gym near my home. I saw that canoeing was a similar sport, but when I found this club I realized it has nothing to do with the gym”. Regarding his intentions to compete in the future, Martí shows the attitude and drive that characterizes these athletes: “For the moment I’m not thinking about it. It’s a bit difficult, especially because what I like is to win. First I have to get strong and then we’ll see”.

Alejandro also highlights the dedication of the club’s coaches and emphasises the importance and value of team work for athletes with disabilities. Gisele Corte also stresses this aspect: “Paracanoe athletes share everything with the rest of the team, both in the gym and in the water. They receive extra help at certain times, such as moving equipment, but basically we work with everyone equally”.

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