By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday, September 4th, the Paralympic torch relay continued its epic journey throughout Brazil passing through the country’s commercial capital, São Paulo. In total, the Paralympic flame will visit six cities, Brasília, Belém, Natal, São Paulo, Joinville, and finally Rio de Janeiro for the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympics on September 7th.
In São Paulo, the torch relay began with a ceremonial lighting Sunday morning at the Centro de Treinamento Paralímpico (Paralympic Training Center). The torch then travelled to several institutions for people with disabilities, including the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind and the Association for the Assistance of Disabled Children (AACD), before taking on its biggest stretch, a five-kilometer route along Avenida Paulista.
More than one hundred torchbearers, ranging from former medal-winning Olympic and Paralympic athletes, artists, and local residents who have made a positive impact helping people with disabilities, had the opportunity to carry the flame during the 13.8-kilometer route across São Paulo.
The first to carry the flame in São Paulo was Brazilian judoka, Rafael Silva, who won the bronze medal at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics. About the upcoming Paralympics, the two-time medalist told reporters, “Team Brazil will have an amazing performance.”
Other distinguished torchbearers on Sunday included Rui Marques, who helped found the Paulista Wheelchair Basketball Federation (FPBSR), José Afonso Medeiros, who in the 1996 Atlanta Games, was the only Brazilian swimmer to win a Paralympic gold medal, and Sebastião Antônio, the former goalkeeper for Brazil’s seven-a-side national football (soccer) team.
“I carried the torch during the 2007 Parapan American Games and now I’m doing it again,” expressed an emotional Antônio. “Only the ones who carry the torch can understand the emotion of the moment.”
The Paralympic torch’s six-city journey began on Thursday, September 1st, with a ceremony at the nation’s capital, Brasília, before being handed off to the first torchbearer, Cláudio Silva, a gold medalist in sitting volleyball at the 2007 Parapan-American Games, to kick off the relay.
In total, seven hundred torchbearers will carry the flame in the Paralympic relay, covering over 250 kilometers. The opening of the Paralympic Games will be on Wednesday, September 7th at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.