From November 4 until 8, the Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro programed Sports Envoys and U.S.A. Track and Field stars Allyson Felix and Josh George for five days of social inclusion-focused events in Rio de Janeiro, the city chosen to host the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The program was the first-of-its-kind ECA Sports Envoy program to pair an Olympic gold medalist, Felix, with Paralympic gold medalist, George. The program was designed to remove barriers and create activities that benefit audiences with and without disabilities, whilst speaking with a young, at-risk public about important life and sports values, such as respect, discipline and overcoming adversity.
Allyson Felix is a sprinter for Team USA, and was the first female athlete after Florence Griffith-Joyner to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games. She won at the 200m, 4x100m relay and 4x400m relay. Felix is very involved in parallel activities with organizations such as “Right to Play”, participates in the USATF’s “Win with Integrity” program and supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Active School” project.
Josh George is a Paralympian and one of the best athletes in his category in the world. After surviving a fall from his 12th floor bedroom window when he was four years-old, George was empowered by his parents to believe that he could do anything and to continue living a normal life. At the age of six, George decided he was an athlete and since then has gone on to participate in three Paralympic Games, and won his Gold medal in the 100m, T53 category race.
The athletes’ visits in Rio de Janeiro began at the Rio2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee, where they were hosted by Mariana Mello, Head of Paralympic Integration and Ricardo Prado, Head of the Sports Advisory Committee within Rio2016, and former Brazilian swimmer and silver medalist in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. During this meeting the Envoys learned about the city’s preparation for the games, not only in its infrastructure, but also in the outreach programs to get the population involved with the Games.
On the following day, November 5, the athletes had their first event at the city-run Reference Center for People with Disabilities in Irajá, where they were welcomed by Georgette Vidor, Municipal Secretary for People with Disabilities and Gymnastics Coach. After their presentation, Allyson and Josh held a clinic for kids who are clients of the center as well as an invited group of students from a neighboring public school, who had likely never been inside the center before. They had a chance to meet Brazilian Paralympians Felipe Gomes and Jhulia Karol, both gold medalists in the London 2012 Paralympics. They continued their day at the Vila Olimpica da Mangueira, a reference for training youth in Athletics. Approximately 40 kids participated in the clinic.
On November 6, the Sports Envoys spent the day at Andef, Associação Niteroiense dos Deficientes Fisicos, where they learned about the institution – the largest and most complete for Paralympic sports training in Brazil, and spoke to 70 children and young adults about overcoming adversities, their paths to success and finished with a one-hour clinic on the track.
On Friday, November 7, their activities were at the SESC Nova Iguaçu, where Allyson and Josh spoke to 300 youth from GEO (Ginasio Experimental Olímpico) Schools and NGO projects focused on track and field that assist underprivileged youth. They were hosts of a regularly occurring event at this community center, entitled “breaking barriers,” which aims to inspire youth from marginalized areas to dream big.
For their last day in Rio, the Sports Envoys had a chance to meet children that were just starting their track and field careers, at an Under-13 Rio State Athletic Championship at the Vila Olimpíca do Mato Alto, organized by the Municipal Secretary of Sports and Leisure and the Rio de Janeiro State Track and Field Federation.