The young Paralympic athlete combines elite competition with informative talks and her YouTube channel, where she explains her story of overcoming
It is curious the idea that makes us believe in the existence of a force, god or thing – give it whatever name you want – that marks the events of our lives, something like an invisible entity that dictates what is and what is not. We usually turn to her in the most complicated moments and we blame her for all the responsibility when explanations are not enough. Four years ago, in 2015, what we know as destiny wanted Desirée Vila (1998, Gondomar, Galicia) to lose her right leg after fracturing her tibia and fibula while practicing acrobatic gymnastics. An accident that could have been a scare and a few months of plaster if it were not for different medical negligence. At just 16 years old, she had to learn to live with only one leg, overcome the fear of what they will say and show herself and the world that, as her book aptly titled
With 21 years you are an example of overcoming. Doesn’t that label weigh on you?
No, but it is a responsibility. I have to measure a lot all the things I do because I want to be a positive example. In that sense, it is a bit exhausting to have the pressure to always be good, to always show my best. But, in the end, that’s what I say: “Don’t you have bad days?” Yes, I get up on the left foot and I have my bad days, but in the end it is very good for me to tell my story and convey that message that you can continue forward. It is an honor to be able to pass it on.
You have become used to dealing with the media and speaking in front of hundreds of people. Are there any questions that have bothered you?
Many times they want to focus my case on a problem related to feminism and I don’t feel like that. The question of whether, because I am a woman, I have it more complicated or have I received a different treatment is always there. Beyond my accident and my situation, I have not had that problem, it is the truth. As for the interviews, I have always felt very comfortable and the questions that I wanted to answer I was delighted to do and those that I did not, well no. I owe nothing to anyone and I have the freedom to say what I want.
You have become a reference for many people. Who is it for you?
I have many, but Irene Villa comes to mind, she was the first person with an amputation that I met. She helped me open my eyes and realize that there was life beyond the accident. She is a super active person and, despite her disability, she has achieved a lot of things that many people thought she was not going to achieve. When I grow up, I want to look like her.
“I am very conceited and i am always talking to my orthopedist to see how i can decorate my prosthesis”
During the four days following the accident, Desirée’s life changed forever. After being hospitalized at the El Castro Medical Center in Vigo (Pontevedra), the athlete felt for hours, bedridden and powerless, how her leg died little by little due to an arterial injury against which the traumatologist did not take any action. Finally, when the situation was irreversible, she was transferred to the Povisa hospital, where her leg was amputated.
The case and the subsequent trial were very popular, especially in Vigo, where even the mayor of the city, Abel Caballero, had to give a press conference showing his support for Desirée. At first, the traumatologist was sentenced to two years in prison and four years of disqualification for a crime of professional recklessness. However, more than five years later, the Provincial Court of Pontevedra has reduced the traumatologist’s penalty to only a fine of 9,000 euros, considering that he was the author of a crime of less serious reckless injury.
In the program ‘La Resistencia’ (Channel #0 of Movistar) you said that you had been compensated with 1.5 million euros, but that this figure was not yet fixed.
No, because the defendant appealed and they are seeing what they can lower. Obviously, what they are interested in is paying as little as possible, but the reality is that prostheses are worth money – between 20,000 and 70,000 euros – and I have to have one until the day I die. The amount that I receive as compensation is equal to the value of all those prostheses for the rest of my life.
In fact, you have turned them into another complement to your wardrobe.
Yes, I am thinking all the time about how I can decorate my next prosthesis because it is something I use every day. Also, I am very conceited and I am always telling my orthopedist if we can make it red, pink or colored. I like having all of them personalized and being able to choose which one I wear depending on whether I go to party, to the beach or have an event. Now, I have made one with the artist Okuda San Miguel , I love his designs and it is an honor to have a prosthesis decorated by him.
Can you tell us any curious anecdote that happened to you with them?
A thousand things have happened to me. I have an application on my mobile that is used to control knee modes and one day, walking down the street, my boyfriend downloaded it and activated the “peg leg” mode to leave me nailed – laughs -. At times, I have also run out of battery in class and the prosthesis has started to beep non-stop. In the end, laughing at our limitations and shortcomings is how we best accept them. Until recently I did not dare to go out in shorts in case people saw me and said something, but now I have put on a gold prosthetic that shines. So, if they are going to see me, let them see me as something good and, above all, positive.
“Without sports, surely, i would not have overcome the trauma and would have a much worse quality of life”
In four years, Desirée has gone from representing Spain in the Acrobatic Gymnastics World Cup – the biggest competition in this discipline – to doing it in athletics alongside the Spanish Paralympic team. She currently holds the national record for her category in the 100-meter sprint and long jump and, for a year, has lived in the Joaquín Blume residence for elite athletes in Madrid. Their goal: to be able to compete internationally with the best and participate in the Tokyo Paralympic Games, initially scheduled for 2020, but postponed due to the coronavirus, to 2021.
Where would you be if it weren’t for sports?
Surely she would not have overcome the trauma, she would be a totally different person and would have a much worse quality of life. Athletics makes me able to walk 20 kilometers without getting tired. A person who does not exercise cannot. Sport has given me passion, quality of life and has brought me closer to many wonderful people.
How do you feel within the Paralympic team?
Meeting more people with disabilities makes you stop being so selfish, asking yourself why this has happened to you. Then, going to the championships together is a real show, because some of us go with the prosthesis hanging, others get the wheelchair whistle at the control and some do not even know where to go because they are blind —he jokes—. It’s a super fun group and I feel like family.
You have been fortunate to meet very powerful sponsors who have supported your career, however, not all your colleagues have that option.
Yes, it is true, I have many teammates with great results and several championship victories and they do not have a single sponsor. This helps me to realize what I have, to be grateful for it and to make the most of it to transmit the values of improvement that disabled people have. When I was practicing acrobatic gymnastics, I had to pay for my tracksuit and travel, now I don’t pay anything for training clothes and I have facilities that I never would have imagined.
When you are not training or studying, what do you like to spend your time on?
I love reading and being interested in things related to the career I’m doing, International Relations. I also like to go to the movies, have a drink with my friends and spend time with my boyfriend, just like anyone else. I can’t afford to go out partying much because having to train daily makes it difficult. When I’m not in competition season I also like to ice skating.
“It took me more than a year to upload a photo with the prosthesis to social networks, it was when i had the first day of athletics training”
Diary of a fight
During the weeks of recovery, and with the excuse of not forgetting any detail of what happened before the trial, Desirée was writing something like a diary. A place where you can vent, collect the impressions of your relatives and express everything you felt during the months following your accident. A therapeutic story that he decided to title with the phrase he was told one day in the hospital where he was recovering.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I didn’t decide, it was my parents who pushed me. For me it was a self-help therapy where I reflected what I was feeling, what I had experienced in gymnastics and the recovery process.
As a good millennial , you have also become a youtuber and tiktoker.
I make the kind of videos that I would have liked to see when I was in the hospital. I remember that when I was admitted and I saw the videos of people walking with the prosthesis, I just wanted to get to it. It is a channel where I explain how I exercise with the stump, I teach how my day to day with a prosthesis is, etc.
How long did it take you to expose yourself on social networks?
In uploading a normal photo maybe a month or so, but what cost me the most was uploading a photo showing the prosthesis. It took me more than a year. The first time was when I had the first day of track and field training at the performance center. Sport helped me overcome my insecurities and stop hiding my prosthesis. At the end I said: “I’m not like that and I’m going to grow another leg. I have to accept my body as it is ”. Now I am special because of what I have, but I am not a freak, I am a different person and the differences are always positive.
In that sense, what do you think of the beauty ideals promoted by certain influencers ?
When I had the accident I went through a difficult stage in that sense. I looked ugly, I looked in the mirror and I did not like what I saw, so I connected the pain of the phantom limb with the time to eat. In the end, for not eating, what could have been four months until I got the prosthesis ended up being seven. We people who have this visibility must take care of our message, especially among the youngest, because we are the ones who suffer the most from the canons of beauty.