If Robinson Mendez lines up in the starting blocks at this year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo it will go down as one of his greatest achievements in a life full of incredible milestones.

Five years ago in Rio, the Chilean was making his fourth Paralympic appearance as a wheelchair tennis player. When his dream of a medal once again fell short, he took the brave decision to switch sports, hanging up the racquet and ball and embracing a paracanoe.

It was always going to be a big ask, taking on a new sport just four years out from the next Games, and hoping he would pick up the necessary skills in time to represent his country. He was 31 at the time, hardly the best age to be taking on a new skill, but those who doubted he could do it, did not know Robinson Mendez.

Covid-19 has pushed his preparation time out from four years to five, but of course that extra 12 months has been difficult, to say the least.

“It’s so strange, because last year we had a lot of problems for training, we had to quarantine and had to stay at home for three months,” Mendez said on the ICF Road to Tokyo podcast.

“I’m in a wheelchair, and I have problems breathing, so I had to stay home for three or four months and train from home. What is so difficult is that I have to do my gym training at home, and I don’t have everything I need to train. So I have to train with what I have. I tried to go to the water every day, but what can I do?

My head is prepared, but physically, no, I’m not prepared

Now Mendez finds himself back where he was exactly one year ago, preparing for a final shot at qualifying for Tokyo, grappling with the uncertainty surrounding not only the Paralympics, but even the Games qualifiers in Szeged, Hungary, next month.

He has had both vaccine shots, but he’s still feeling nervous about travelling to another country, especially one that is going to be so hard to get to. Does he feel prepared?

“No. No, not 100 per cent,” he said.

“My head is prepared, but physically, no, I’m not prepared. That’s the truth. I don’t feel that safe going to Hungary, because I don’t feel safe if I leave my home. But I take care of myself.

“If I go to Hungary, I have to stop in Brazil, then Paris, and then Budapest. There are so many stops, and there are a lot of people at airports.

“But I’m prepared in my mind. I’m there, I will go and fight.”

If it is possible to get there, Robinson Mendez will be in Hungary fighting for one of the handful of Paralympic paracanoe quotas available for Tokyo. He’s faced tougher battles in his life.

The journey of Mendez, from promising junior footballer to four-time Paralympian, began in 1997 when, at just 12-years-old, his whole life came crashing down around him.

The youngster found himself caught in the middle of a warehouse dispute; shots were fired, and Robinson Mendez took a stray bullet to his back. His spinal cord was shattered, he never walked again.

Four Paralympics later, the dream that first came to Mendez still burns strong. Now 36, he more than ever wants to do Chile proud. It’s been a long journey, and there is still a long way to go, but he won’t take no for an answer.

I don’t have everything I need to train. So I have to train with what I have

“I really want to go to my fifth Paralympic Games. It would be amazing. It’s my dream,” he said.

“When I went home after Rio, it was two or three weeks after, I changed sports, so I’m pretty new at this sport. So it would be a dream for me and my country to go to another Paralympic Games.

“I’m very happy with my decision. I love sport on the water, I love canoe, I love kayak, and I love my country, so I think any sport where I can represent my country is perfect.”

You can listen to the full podcast with Robinson Mendez here.


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