Desiree Vila: “Sport stripped me from one leg, but has given me so much more”

Desiree Vila began practicing gymnastics at a very young age. She used to compete in the sport of acrobatic gymnastics, where she was once named to the Spanish national team.

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Desirée Vila Bargiela

Then, an incident during a routine workout in 2015 landed her in the hospital. She was there for four days until doctors realized one of her arteries was obstructed as a result of the incident, putting her life at risk.

That was followed by an instance of medical negligence that led to the amputation of her right leg.

During those six months, she had been relying on crutches and a wheelchair. Then, she began walking with her prosthetic.

“At that time, I considered beginning a new chapter through adaptive sport,” Vila said. “I remember watching the opening ceremony for the Rio 2016 Paralympics on TV and watching my then soon-to-be teammates compete with their prosthetics and wheelchairs. I was fascinated.”

Then, Vila switched sports from gymnastics to track

In order to accomplish her goal, Vila first had to learn how to run with a running blade, a special prosthetic worn by Paralympic athletes, or para-athletes, on the track.

“I learned how to run on my own in my hometown in Galicia,” Vila said. “Then I moved to England and began running on the treadmill at a local gym.”

That stop on British soil landed her later in Malta, where she continued making progress on her tourism degree. There, she met another para-athlete who encouraged her to go to the track.

Eventually, she learned about the opportunities housed at the Madrid High-Performance Center, where the Spanish Sports Council and the Spanish Olympic and Paralympic committees are located, and moved to Madrid, Spain to continue with her training at the high-performance center, where she has lived for the past four years.

Since then, Vila has clinched several Spanish national titles, as well as having qualified for the European and World Championships. She also holds the national records for both of her main events.

“Switching sports like that was hard for two reasons. On one hand, gymnastics has nothing to do with track, and on the other hand my injury was sustained while training,” Vila said. “When I began training for track, I was very afraid of sustaining a new injury. I was psychologically traumatized if I fell or broke my other leg. I realized I had to work with a sports psychologist.”

Desiree Vila

Vila had been attending a psychologist, mainly to help her accept her new life after suffering the amputation.

“Now it was different, because it was about accepting the fact that I can be an athlete again, but I have to overcome that fear of suffering an injury,” Vila said. “The fact that it happened to me does not mean that I will suffer an injury in track as well.”

Vila said her aunt Tania Bargiela was “a huge stepping stone” in her recovery process.

“It was very hard. Since she was a little girl, Desi was always very active; when she found the sport she loved, she gave it her all like she does now,” Bargiela said. “We can’t live in the past, but rather reinvent ourselves and fight, and find new goals to continue on with life. This is a journey and one has to live it as he or she wants.”

As Vila began competing in her new athletic life, she set the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics as her main goal.

Then, in February of 2020, Vila suffered yet another injury training for long jump.

At that time, she had to bring her training to a stall and resumed briefly right before a national lockdown was declared for all of Spain in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the high-performance center to close indefinitely.

“Sport stripped me from one leg, but has given me so much more,” Vila said. “I always try to focus on all the good that sport has given me. I would not have been able to compete at the Olympics through gymnastics, because the type of gymnastics I competed in was not an Olympic sport.”

Vila placed sixth in the women’s long jump event in the T63 class for above-the-knee amputees at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.