SAO PAULO – Although she is a medal-winning sprinter, the life path of the Paralympic medalist Veronica Hipolito has been serious and full of obstacles.
She has had more than 200 tumors removed in four operations and suffered a stroke that left her with assorted complications, but nevertheless, the 22-year-old woman is now training to compete once again with an eye toward adding to her sports legacy.
At her home on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, where she was born, Hipolito keeps seven gold medals, along with three silvers and a bronze, from her most important athletic competitions, although her favorite awards – which she still dreams of surpassing – are the silver and bronze medals she earned at the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Hipolito competes in the T38 category for athletes with physical disabilities stemming from cerebral palsy, a consequence – in her case – of the stroke she suffered at age 14.
For the young woman, everything happened “very fast.” In an interview with EFE, she said she woke up and felt “half of my body paralyzed and great difficulties in speaking.”
What affected her the most, however, were the words her father spoke to her before she left the hospital: “‘When you leave (this place), everyone’s going to try to set limits for you, but the one who’s going to decide what you’re going to do or not, is you’... And here I am.”
Then she laughed.
Although some doctors told her she would never walk again, Hipolito “found herself again” in athletism and in just two years she won the 200 meters at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships. She was 17 at the time.
“There, things started to change,” she said.
That same year, doctors found that her brain tumor, for which she had undergone surgery in 2009, had returned and she decided to begin intensive treatment that took her off the track for a few months.
After getting back to regular training sessions and with just 15 days to go until the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto, Hipolito discovered that she had developed “familial adenomatous polyposis,” a rare inherited disorder that produced more than 200 “serious” tumors in her intestinal tract.
Hipolito said that the key to overcoming bad news of this kind is to “focus on the solution.”
“There’s a problem, there’s a solution. I focus on the solution. I train,” she said.
With this philosophy in mind – and only after winning three golds and one silver in the Parapanamericanos making her the best and youngest female medalwinner at those games at age 19 – Hipolito returned home to undergo surgery to remove about 90 percent of her large intestine.
The treatment she had to undergo delayed her preparation for the most important sports event of her life: the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
In recalling the competition, where she brought home a silver medal in the 100 m and a bronze in the 400 m, Hipolito admitted that it was her “favorite” multi-sport event, saying: “We spent four years fighting for a single day and, on that day, for a few seconds. It’s crazy.”
In 2017, doctors once again found that her brain tumor had not been eradicated with the previously prescribed medication, so it was back to the operating room. In 2018, they found other indications of the tumor that required another operation, so – in all – she spent about two years practically without doing any training.
Now, however, Hipolito has returned to the track at the Brazilian Paralympic Center in Sao Paulo, where she trains practically every day for an average of five hours and where she is showing that people with disabilities deserve to be included in athletic competition.
“There’s no inclusion today, there is none,” she said bluntly. “Helping a person in a wheelchair to climb a ladder is not inclusion. Inclusion is allowing them to do it by themselves because it has a ramp.”