For more than two decades Chile’s Robinson Mendez dreamed of winning a Paralympic medal for his beloved country, but after the 2016 Rio Games he knew he would need to make big changes if it was to ever come true.

Rio was Mendez’s fourth Paralympics as a wheelchair tennis player, but at 31 he realised his window to win a medal was closing fast.

The big change Mendez had to make was a change in sport. And it was a dramatic change, deciding to switch from the dry, relatively safe surface of a tennis court, to the great unknown – the wet, cold and often deep waterways of Santiago.

The transition has been quick and, so far smooth. From next-to-no experience in a canoe, Mendez will this week represent Chile at the 2018 ICF Paracanoe and Canoe Sprint World Championships in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal.

“The most difficult part of the change has definitely been the water,” Mendez said on the eve of his first race in Portugal.

“To get the good balance, and not fall out in the water, that was the most difficult thing for the first few months.

“But now I have totally 100 per cent control of my boat.”

For as long as he can remember, Robinson Mendez dreamed of playing and succeeding as a sportsman at the highest possible level for his country.

Up until 1997 he thought it might be as a footballer; but on March 7 of that year, aged just 12, his spinal cord and his footballing dream were shattered by a bullet during a warehouse dispute.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, the young boy became even more determined to pursue a top-level sporting career.  

“For almost 20 years I was a wheelchair tennis player, I went to four Paralympic Games,” Mendez said.

“This is like tennis. It’s huge, there are people everywhere, athletes everywhere training.

“It’s the same for me. To represent my country, in any sport, feels the same for me in my heart.”

Regrets? None.

“I really like paracanoeing, I think it is a beautiful sport,” he said.

“And if I get to represent my country in any sport, I want to do my very best. I’m always thinking about Tokyo 2020, I really hope to be there.

“It’s my dream to be there, at my fifth Paralympic Games, so I’m working for that. But if it’s not to be, I will have another chance in four more years.

Mendez is drawn to start in the opening event of this year’s World Championships, the KL1 men’s 200.

It will be a tough start; Rio gold medallist, Jakub Tokarz, 2017 world champion, Esteban Farias, and Rio bronze medallist, Ian Marsden, are all lining up in the same heat.

But no-one will dare take their eyes off the dogged Chilean in lane one.

#ICFparacanoe #ICFsprint