Published On: August 18, 2016

Olympic Hero

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Isaquias Queiroz

The Rio Olympics have produced many heroes from around the world. Here’s a look at one of them from Brazil.

While few of us can even imagine winning an Olympic medal, almost no one has surmounted the adversity Isaquias Queiroz did to win a silver medal in Rio. First, let’s begin with his nickname Sem Rim, which means missing kidney in Portuguese. At age 10, he fell out of a tree and onto a rock while trying to get a better look at a snake hanging from a branch. After being transferred to a larger town’s hospital, doctors found his kidney had nearly split in two. They eventually removed the kidney. While doctors warned him to stay away from sports, the resilient kid had other plans. “I never thought if I would have a complicated life because of that. As soon as I could, I came back and had a normal life.”

Rio Olympics Canoe Sprint

Rio Olympics Canoe Sprint

Isaquias is from the city of Ubaitaba in Bahia, and his misfortune began even before he lost a kidney. At age 3, a pot of boiling water fell on him scalding large sections of his body. Doctors told his mother to prepare for his death, but she refused to believe the prognosis. While his body was healing, life got harder. At age 5, he was kidnapped. His father also died that year. He was eventually returned to his mother unharmed. He grew up with his mother and nine siblings, four of them adopted.

His town’s name, Ubaitaba, stems from the indigenous word for canoe, historically the main mode of transportation on the Rio de Contas river. Queiroz, however, was more interested in soccer as a boy until he tried competitive canoeing. Despite cheating death and living with only one kidney, he had an opportunity at age 11 to get involved in canoeing thanks to a government-funded project. “From his first contact with the water, I realized that he was good, that he had something special,” Queiroz’s childhood coach, Figueroa Conceição, told the Associated Press this week.

Queiroz quickly rose through the ranks in the canoeing world. At age 17, he became a junior world champion. At age 19, he won his first world title. He’s since won two more. This week in Rio, he narrowly lost to Germany’s Sebastian Brendel to win silver in the men’s single 1000-meter canoe race. “My race was very good,” he said in an interview on Globo. “I lost a little there at the end, but getting the silver medal at my first Olympics is very good.” Queiroz had previously defeated Brendel in the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships 2014 in Moscow at 500 meters.

Isaquais and Brendel

Isaquias and Brendel

Queiroz’s Olympic quest isn’t over. He’ll go for more medals — he’s still hoping for a gold — when he competes for a spot in the men’s canoe single 200-meter sprint (he won the bronze), and later in the week, he’ll pair up with Brazil’s Erlon Silva for the men’s canoe double 1,000-meter race. Should Queiroz win a gold in Rio, he would become the first Brazilian to win a gold medal in canoeing.

“I feel emotional to represent my country in Rio,” Queiroz said. “It’s a dream come true for any athlete, especially for me since it’s my first Olympic Games with the chance of winning three medals in my home country.”

Queiroz resists talking about his modest and accident-prone background. In several interviews with Brazilian media before the Olympics, he insisted his childhood was a happy one. The hardship he has faced, Queiroz told the AP, lies in the countless hours of grueling training it takes to become a top-level Olympic canoeist. “I think the journey of an athlete comes with many difficulties,” he said. “It’s not smooth, not easy work. You have to kill yourself daily to get to the competition and win.”

Update: On Saturday, August 20, Isaquias Queiroz became the first ever Brazilian to win three medals in the same Olympic Games.



{Research: The Olympian}

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  1. Isaquias is our gold.

    Thank you for the article.

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