September 9th, 2016 is not a day 17-year-old Núria Marquès is going to easily forget.
With a large smile and wide open arms, she stands triumphantly in front of the large blue-green-red logo of the 2016 Paralympics, waving to a loud and cheering crowd in Rio’s Olympic Aquatics Stadium. She’s just conquered her first gold medal - Spain’s first in swimming here - winning the 400m freestyle S9 class (see sidebar below for class info) event in her first Paralympics competition ever.
Swimming with class.
Swimming is the only Paralympic sport bringing together limb loss, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and other disabilities across classes. Races take place in a standard 50m pool in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly disciplines, in distances from 50 to 400 metres.
Classes 1-10: Swimmers with a physical disability, with lower numbers for those with more severe disabilities
Classes 11-13: Swimmers with a visual impairment
Classes 14: Swimmers with an intellectual disability
The prefix S denotes the class for freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. SB denotes the class for breaststroke, and SM denotes the class for individual medley. So S1, SB1 and SM1 are for athletes with severe disabilities, while S10, SB9 and SM10 are for those with minimal disabilities.
A moving victory.
It’s no coincidence the Paralympics logo behind her features three multi-colored symbols called agitos, as agito means “I move” in Latin. With a time of 4:42.56, she moved fast, plowing through from behind in the last few strokes to beat older and more experienced swimmer, Australian Ellie Cole, by just two-hundredths of a second.
“It’s a dream come true”, Núria confessed, “I never imagined it, not for anything in the world…”
Núria is one of seven Paralympic athletes swimming for Spain as part of the Equipo AXA de Promesas Paralímpicas de Natación (AXA Paralympic “Promises” Swimming Team).
Her and her Rio teammates Óscar Salguero, María Delgado, Ariadna Edo, Iván Salguero, Iñigo Llopis and Marian Polo all share the same passion for swimming, and at some point or another all needed a bit of help to find the resources required to live out their dream.
Doing good to help others do well.
Which is where AXA and Fundación AXA came into play: providing economical, logistical and moral support for the young swimmers’ preparation before, during, and beyond Rio.
Fundación AXA is committed to improving society through protection and prevention, and supporting cultural, artistic and educational initiatives that give equal opportunities to everyone. The foundation supports Spain’s Paralympic committee to ensure young swimmers with disabilities can develop their careers as professionals, providing high-potential swimmers with the opportunity to train in exceptional conditions.
A long-time sponsor of the Paralympic committee, it started the “Promesas” team in 2009 to “work on the future and help young talent get the opportunity to develop and reach their ultimate level”, in the words of Jean-Paul Rignault, CEO of AXA Spain and Chairman of Fundación AXA.
We’ve been a part (of Spain’s Paralympic efforts) in Beijing, London and Rio, and we’re going to renew our partnership for Tokyo 2020. The Games are just two weeks every four years, but if you want to be successful, you have to get ready now… it’s a long-term relationship, because again, it is part of our business to think mid- and long-term, so the same goes with this partnership.
Train more, win more.
Núria’s been part of the Equipo for some time, joining at age 11 (though she’s eager to tell us she’s been swimming since she was 9 months old). Since then she’s trained with her coach almost two hours every day, swimming approximately 6,000 metres a day. “But often when a competition is coming up, we add both distance and intensity”, she admits.
Single-minded in her approach, when we ask her what her favorite thing about swimming is, she replies: “It’s hard to decide. Right now, I think it’s the fact that I just love the competition… My main goal for this year was to qualify for the Games and I achieved this in January. From then on my goal has been to constantly beat my own times.”
Though she dedicates her first gold medal to her brother, she credits her trainer Juan Carlos, her family and her swimming club, CN Sant Feliu, for giving her absolutely everything she needed to go to Rio with the best chances possible.
Real life, rituals and role models.
When she’s not swimming, Núria keeps very busy, as she’s currently finishing High School. She adds: “It’s my next-to-last year at High School, so I don’t actually have much time for anything else. I go out with my friends on the weekends and that’s about it. I don’t even have much time to watch TV, as my daily schedule is pretty much full of stuff to do.”
Curious about any rituals or special game-day activities she might perform, we ask her about them. “I don’t really have any. When I have a morning race, I have a regular breakfast, like any other day. Nothing special.” Her understated nature turns quickly to fervor when we ask her about who’s inspired her most. “Teresa Perales is just a great influence,” she answers with gleaming eyes, “…for everyone: swimmers and athletes alike.”
Finally, we ask Núria what her ultimate dream in life is. After thinking about it for a bit, she answers: “My dream was to come here to the Paralympic Games in Rio… I’m here now. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Keep track of Núria and her team’s progress in Rio here and join us in wishing them all a big ¡Felicidades! for their successes and ¡Buena suerte! for those to come.
Going for gold: Equipo AXA “Promesas” results in Rio
Gold - 400m freestyle S9 - Núria Marquès - 4:42.56
Bronze - 400m freestyle S13 - Ariadna Edo Beltrán - 4:43.49
Gold - 100m breast-stroke SB8 - Óscar Salguero - 1:11.11
Bronze - 100m butterfly S13 - María Delgado - 1:12.73