Rio Olympics 2016: Inspirational sporting stories from Brazil

Sport has the ability to inspire individuals to great things and change people's lives. Reaching for Rio is a collection of inspiring stories of individuals whose lives were changed by sport or where sport inspired them to change the lives of others.


Lars Grael is a two-time Olympic medallist and 20 years ago was one of Brazil's leading sailors, until a freak accident resulted in him losing a leg.

Grael, who returned to sailing and was world champion in the Star class in 2015, has added another focus to his life - a sailing school for state-educated children.

"In the fight for a cause to live for, the project gave me a direction, a true north on my compass," he says.

Project Grael teaches children and young people aged from nine to 24 to sail and learn about nautical engineering.

It has produced one of Brazil's up-and-coming stars - world champion Samuel Goncalves, who partners Grael in the premier dinghy sailing Star class.

Brazil is the birthplace of one of the world's most famous skateboarders, Bob Burnquist, and one of the world's leading skateboarding nations.

Sandro Testinha is a passionate skateboarder from Sao Paulo who worked as a volunteer in one of Brazil's most dangerous and violent juvenile prisons.

"I saw that many of those jailed for committing terrible crimes were just like me," he says. "The only difference was skateboarding."

He wanted to develop a skate park as a way to keep young people out of a life of crime. But finding a suitable location was hard as many areas are used for drug dealing.

But, using his contacts from his prison experience helped Sandro persuade local drug dealers to vacate an abandoned court and now he's been helping teenagers to exchange guns for skateboards.

Jair Medeiros fell in love with golf as a teenage caddie for Vicky Whyte, a member of Brazil's national golf team in the 1980s. Normally the preserve of the country's elite, being on the golf course was an eye-opener.

"I had only seen golf in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon. It was a crazy novelty," recalls Jair.

He was determined that others should get the chances he'd had. With support from Whyte and the mayor of Japeri, one of Rio's poorest suburbs, he established Japeri Golf, Brazil's first public golf course.

Neide dos Santos lost her husband and her teenage son to shootings in Sao Paulo's toughest neighbourhood. Her husband was shot by the police. Her son was killed by a 14-year-old gunman.

In rebuilding her life she discovered long distance running. It gave her time to reflect on her loss but it also inspired others in her favela to follow in her footsteps.

Before long she was taking other mothers running. "They came to me because they wanted to do sport too," she says. Soon children joined and now she helps them train for marathons.

At first sight there is not a lot in common between playing badminton and dancing the Samba.

However, Sebastião Oliveira, who has coached Brazil's two Olympic badminton players. realised that the nation's dance culture could help in preparation for the game.

His own start in life was not easy. He was placed in care at the age of six and on release was so poor he had to scavenge food from a rubbish dump. "I had to fend off vultures to get my food," he says.

But discovering badminton later in life inspired him to give disadvantaged children a route out of poverty and crime. He went on to establish Brazil's most successful badminton centre and set out to get Rio's children into the game. "We need to reach them before the drug dealers do," he says.

Engaging the children in badminton however proved more of a challenge. But introducing Samba into the sessions to improve fitness transformed performance and attendance.


In this series, five women from around the world tell the stories of how they came to excel at their sport - the obstacles, challenges, failures and triumphs along the way.

Silvana Lima

Being the best female surfer in Brazil wasn't enough to secure Silvana Lima the sponsorship she needed for her surfing career.

In an image-driven market, she wasn't considered pretty enough to get full sponsorship for the first 13 years of her career.

Silvana refused to let that stop her.

Ayesha McGowan hopes to be the first African American professional female road cyclist

For Ayesha McGowan, a road cyclist based in San Francisco, her goal goes beyond winning races.

She hopes to be the first African American professional female road cyclist and campaigns for the sport not to be "white" and "elitist".

Sport and religion often have an uneasy relationship.

Modern pentathlete Aya Medany has wrestled with the needs of her sport and requirements of her Muslim faith ever since the International Swimming Federation banned swimming bodysuits.

In a country that regards sport as a distraction for women, Aya campaigns and encourages more Muslim girls into sport.

Disabled by polio at three years old, Triinh Thi Bich Nhu was resigned to a sheltered life in a rural village in Vietnam - until she discovered swimming.

Now, through the sport she excels at, she has travelled the world, made friends, and achieved a life for herself that others never thought possible.

When Dipa Karmakar competed in her first gymnastics competition, she did so without shoes and borrowed an oversized, ill-fitting costume.

Humble beginnings in a sport that that has little financial backing in India mean her gymnastic achievements, she was the first Indian to win a medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, are all the more remarkable.

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