From left to right: Ulises Corvalán, the leading guide of the expedition; Fabricio Oberto; Paula Pareto; Silvio Velo and Maria del Pilar Pereyra.

A team of eleven great athletes and personalities -Olympic and Paralympic medalists among them- will set foot in Mt. Aconcagua State Park on Monday. They intend to take the flag to the summit, as part of a project that promotes sports and healthy lifestyle.

The project is called “Summit Aconcagua”, and what brings the 11 teammates together is their stories of resilience and achieving.

The athlete who carries the flag is Paula Pareto, the first Argentinian woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic Games (Judo, in Rio 2016). “Peque” Pareto, as everybody knows her,  had to overcome many difficulties to be able to train. She did find the way, though, as she did it to complete a degree in Medicine at the same time.

Pareto received the flag in Buenos Aires, where the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) will take place in October this year. The flag was handed to Pareto by the young climbers that will represent Argentina in the YOG, in what will be the historical debut of sport climbing as an Olympic discipline.

Once in the mountain, Pareto will pass the Olympic flag to Fabricio Oberto. The 42 year old basketball star from Córdoba also has an Olympic gold medal (Atenas 2004). The pivot also played in the San Antonio Spurs team that won the NBA championship in 2007, among many other achievements.

Oberto has a heart condition that was hard to diagnose and that required complex surgeries. Nonetheless, the athlete  managed to play basketball at pro level until the age of 37.

Another great female athlete in the “Aconcagua Summit” team is the swimmer María del Pilar Pereyra. With 39 years, María has represented Argentina in two Olympic Games (Sydney 2000 and Atlanta 1996). She obtained a gold medal in the 1997 World Cup.

She bravely endured an injury in her back until she could no longer compete at top level. María del Pilar was only 22 years old and she had to change her whole life. After struggling with depression, she found a new career in open water swimming and in coaching young athletes.

Silvio Velo is a well known example of tenacity and positive attitude. He was born blind, one of 13 brothers in a humble home. “I had a happy childhood. I played fútbol (soccer) and rode my bike”, he says today with a contagious smile. He went on playing, to become the star and leader of the “Murciélagos” (bats), the national team of blind soccer that won two World Cups. Silvio also won a Bronce Medal in the Paralympic Games of Athens (2004).

Velo´s achievements and his work promoting gender equality and inclusion for people with disabilities made him an inspirational figure, beyond the sports scene.

With less gold in their chests but with the same passion and resilience, the other members of the crew have all inspirational life stories. Elisa Sanpietro de Forti is a trail runner that will try to reach the summit at the age of 83.

Pablo Giesenow is a lawyer and former amateur soccer player that lost both legs in a car accident, three years ago. He never gave up and started working and training as soon as the doctors would let him. He runs and rides bikes with his prothesis now. He became a spokesperson for sports and resilience. “Will power replaces any part of te body” he says.

Julián Weich comes to the project from a different place. He is a well known TV host and actor, with a long time commitment to promote NGO’s and public interest campaigns. He is an ambassador for UNICEF. With a long career in the media, he has only used the public spot to help others.

Until 2008, Alvaro Casillas was a famous torero (bullfighter) in España. But he was hit by a bull and couldn´t walk for a year. He started walking, then running and ended up racing 120 km ultra-trails.

Ezequiel Baraja first entered a rugby field at 21; it was in a prison, where he was serving a sentence for robbery. In jail he became a player for “The Spartans”, a rugby team created by a former pro player who wanted to teach values to the interns. Ezequiel began studying again in jail, and then finished high school. He kept playing with the team after he ended his sentence.

Peter Czanyo was a sedentary person and a heavy smoker, habit that caused him to suffer from cancer and lose one lung. After nearly dying he started literally running for his life. He also became the president of a NGO of persons with lung cancer.

Fernando Pedro Marino is the the eleventh athlete in the “Summit Aconcagua” team. He is a war veteran. Being very young he fought in the Islas Malvinas war. He went to college after the war and graduated as a veterinarian. He also turned to running long distances as a way to cope with his experience in the war. Now at 55 and with many marathons under the belt, Fernando will try to reach the highest point in the American Continent.

It is indeed an outstanding group of persons. We are honored to host them in our province, Mendoza, in our mountain, Mt. Aconcagua, and in our house: Fernando Grajales Expeditions.

[ Nicolás García ]

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