After becoming blind, I wanted to die.”

In 2012 Ecuador’s Darwin Castro felt his world had ended when he lost his sight. Aged 16, he was diagnosed with Keratoconus, a progressive eye disease, and despite numerous surgeries, his sight could not be restored.

However, Para sport gave him new hope and four years after losing his sight, Castro is optimistic about winning his country’s first ever Paralympic medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in the 5,000m T11.

“Now, if you ask me if I want to have my eyesight back or to be crowned as Paralympic champion, I choose the latter without a doubt because it is through Para sports that I can inspire people and show them that a disability should not limit you,” said Castro.

The 22-year-old is one of eight athletes from Latin America whose remarkable stories are being told in a series of powerful short road to Rio 2016 films produced by the Agitos Foundation, the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) development arm.

Over the last 18 months, 155 athletes, coaches and classifiers from 23 countries, including Castro, have benefitted from expert training provided during the Road to Rio 2016: Agitos Foundation Sessions. Organised in partnership with the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and Brazilian Paralympic Committee, the sessions aimed to improve coaching and Para sport standards as part of the legacy of Latin America’s first Paralympic Games.

Castro’s story also launches the #TeamAgitos. This aims to raise awareness of the Agitos Foundation by encouraging sport fans, athletes and partners to join the team for developing Para sport by showing their support and sharing their own updates on social media.

Last year Castro took part in an Agitos Foundation training workshop in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and months later won the 5,000m T11 bronze medal at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games.
“The Agitos Foundation has given me the opportunity to get to know more about Paralympic sports. It has helped me a lot,” he said.

“I took part in a programme in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and interacted with other athletes with different impairments, which was highly enriching. It has helped me grow as an athlete.”

Rapid progression

Castro has come a long way since he first started losing his sight.

“I have always thought about disabilities as something complex. I became blind during my adolescence, right when a person is discovering and enjoying a whole new world,” Castro said.

“Who I believed were my friends back then, left me. Maybe they thought I was another person.

“At the beginning, it was as if I did not fit in this world. Most of the cities in South America are not accessible enough for people with impairments, and getting out of my house started to be a challenge. Buses sometimes did not stop for me. And I thought ‘things were not like this when I could see.’ ”

Doctors suggested he take up sports as part of the psychological rehabilitation and his reintegration into society. With his family’s invaluable support, Castro gained new confidence.

“I first tried blind football, then swimming and even goalball. But it was when I tried athletics that I noticed I had found my sport,” he said.

Castro’s life noticeably improved when he met his current guide and best friend, Sebastian Rosero.

“I consider Sebastian to be my brother. In fact, once I started to train harder I decided to move to Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, where I have been living with him and his family,” said Castro  who is originally from Cuenca.

“I have two families: my biological one, and Sebastian’s. My social circle has even grown since I have acquired my impairment.”

Once in Quito, Castro trained harder and made athletics his way of life.

“I dream and think about athletics during the whole day. I carefully select what I eat to perform better on the track,” he said. Athletics is a window to show the world that disabilities are no limit. It is the oxygen I breathe.”

With the support of his family and friends, and a bulletproof self-confidence, Castro now dreams big.

“I want to win Ecuador’s first Paralympic medal,” he said. “I know it is going to be tough and I might not win it in Rio, but I will at some point, hopefully the gold medal in Tokyo [2020].

“If I continue this way, I have no doubts that I will achieve it.”
Darwin Castro gains a brother and guide. #TeamAgitos – on the Road to Rio