News Latin America “Soccer lifted me out of my wheelchair”: a team of amputees finds...

“Soccer lifted me out of my wheelchair”: a team of amputees finds their place in a neighborhood in Mexico City

The bullet went through Sebastian Perez Pombo’s right leg at the level of the buttock. He sectioned her aorta vein. The thief disappeared and he was left bleeding on the ground. “Thank God the ambulance was nearby,” says this big and shy 25-year-old who is two semesters away from finishing his Mechanical Engineering degree. Now, three years after the robbery, he plays for the Los Chapulines FC team, which trains every Saturday on a field in Escandon, a neighborhood in Mexico City. “I bled to death, they put me in a coma and I was on a respirator for three months,” he says, and he supports all his weight on his left crutch, frees his right hand and lowers the collar of his shirt. “Look,” he says. And there, like a tattoo between his two clavicles, appears his scar when he was intubated.

During the coma they had to amputate his right leg due to a thrombosis, and a stroke paralyzed the entire left side of his body. How did you react when you woke up? “It was not a total surprise, I had dreams. Everything that happened to me, even though I was in a coma, I caught it somehow, ”he says. Even so, he had to deal with hemiplegia and a body with hardly any muscles. “My limbs were numb, like this,” he says, turning his foot and left hand inward. “I wondered over and over again why he was still alive if he couldn’t do anything.” But he did not give up and a year and a half ago he appeared in a wheelchair on the soccer field. He still couldn’t stand on his remaining leg. “But soccer lifted me out of my chair,” he says, and for eight months he was doing training and rehabilitation exercises to regain mobility. Now, his two crutches lean like two columns on the artificial grass where he learns to move and use the swing of his weight to shoot the ball with more power.

There he is on Saturday, November 12, with the rest of the team, training for the semifinal of the national amputee league that they play this Sunday against Guerreros de Torreon, the favorites. Valente Quintana, his coach, says that the name is no coincidence. “He comes from Chapulin Colorado, because of his philosophy that a superhero is not the one with superpowers. What a fucking joke that would be, right?” Quintana says very seriously. “No, a superhero is the one who is afraid, the one who has fights and difficult situations, but he has the courage to face the situation and get ahead,” he says. As he speaks, the kicks of his teammates resound against the metal goals like cannons. He set up the team a year and a half ago with Hugo Carabes, a former professional soccer player who lost part of his left leg in a motorcycle accident. Do you have chances to win next Sunday? “We are going to win, there is no doubt,” says Carabes.

Pedro Rodriguez and Ricardo Hernandez, players of the Los Chapulines FC soccer team, on a pitch in Escandon, Mexico City.Daniel Alonso Vina

His team made the news a week ago because the Escandon neighborhood has decided to dedicate this year’s Participatory Budget to roofing the field where they play. This mechanism, established more than ten years ago, allocates a part of the federal budget (around 3%) that each neighborhood receives for initiatives agreed upon by the community. This year, the residents proposed the improvement of a children’s playground, the painting of some facades that were in poor condition, or the construction of a roof in Deportivo Valle Escandon. With 125 votes (out of 8,000 people who can exercise this right), this last project was chosen.

Claudio Fonseca Martinez, a lifelong inhabitant of this neighborhood with narrow sidewalks and stalls on every corner, was the one who proposed roofing the soccer field. “We are very proud that our proposal has come out. We think it’s going to be a boost for the community,” he says. In addition to the amputees, many people from the neighborhood come here to play, and being outdoors exposes them to the contingencies of the weather. “Many children come here to play and it is a disaster. They burn when it’s sunny and when it rains they end up in soup,” says Martinez. “Especially in these autumn months, when at six in the evening, just when the league games start, it starts to rain and people get soaked.”

“It was desperate,” says Sebastian Perez Pombo. When he woke up from his coma, it was all a battle against the elements. “To communicate with my relatives, I had to use a blackboard with words. I couldn’t even pick up the phone, ”he laments. nor swallow It took him three weeks to be able to drink water. “It was a very big depression,” he says. Perez looked at his hands, feet, legs, which “literally” only had bones left, and he wondered, once again, why he was still alive. “Then I started to move my right hand, and little by little, very slowly, I was recovering the movement.” When he first came onto the field, it wasn’t easy either. “At first I had a hard time accepting that I couldn’t move like them,” he says, watching the rest of the amputees weave between orange cones and kick the ball to the other side of the field. “But they never looked down on me, they always tried to support me,” he says.

The Los Chapulines FC amputee soccer team, on the field where they train every Saturday in Escandon, Mexico City.
The Los Chapulines FC amputee soccer team, on the field where they train every Saturday in Escandon, Mexico City.Daniel Alonso Vina

Patricia Avendano, President of the ICEM (Electoral Institute of Mexico City), is the person in charge of the Participatory Budget of the capital, and the one who has to make sure that the money allocated to the projects is actually used for their construction. “Normally, the authorities do everything possible not to give the money,” says the counselor. The neighbors are waiting for the project that they have been promised, but in the Administration nobody moves. “We also often have the task of pressing for projects to go ahead,” confirms Avendano. Everything has been done with the Participatory Budget: tennis, soccer, and basketball courts, urban gardens, painting or lighting high-risk areas, rescuing spaces, a garden for pets, an outdoor gym, etc. “These are works that allow us to rebuild the social fabric of our city,” in the face of the forces that are gradually eroding the communities.

Every Saturday, to earn extra money and finance the poles, which are always breaking, they go before training to “semaphore.” They approach a traffic light between Avenida Patriotismo and Avenida Progreso, and delight the drivers with their soccer skills. They give endless touches, throw the ball into the air, catch it with the back of the neck, leave the crutches on the ground, do some push-ups on the floor and get up again. The ball has not touched the ground at any time. Sebastian Perez uses the money to pay for his studies. The rest of the players also use it to buy sticks. The cheapest ones cost 1,600 pesos a piece and even so they break easily because they are not prepared for the effort to which they are subjected. When the training is over, those with prostheses put it on and little by little, between laughs and sweaty shirts, they say goodbye.

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