Sarai Gascón and Antía Jácome

The Goal: Paris - Ep. 4

07/03/2023 · By Redacción TAB
Sarai Gascón and Antía Jácome, athletes of the Talento a bordo Team

They don’t practice the same sport, one does swimming and the other canoeing, they were born seven years and more than one thousand kilometres apart, but Sarai Gascón and Antía Jácome have one thing in common: their love for water. Both seem to need it close by, in a perfect symbiosis that has turned them into leaders in their respective disciplines. But their similarities don’t end there, both covet medals (yes, plural) at the Paris Games.

At the tender age of 15, Sarai Gascón (Tarrasa, 1992) won her first Paralympic medal. After Beijing, she won two more in London, three in Río de Janeiro and two more in Tokyo. Eight in total. But no gold. “I’m lucky to have won eight medals at four Games —reminisces Sarai—, but luck is also sought. I never settle and I want more from the next Games.” When she talks about Paris, this swimmer has a golden glint in her eyes. “My main goal is the gold medal,” she declares. Antía Jácome (Pontevedra, 1999) made her debut in Tokyo with a diploma —fifth in C1 200—. For Paris, this canoeist has set her sights high and isn’t ashamed to admit it: “The mindset I went to Tokyo with is very different to the one I have now, and I’m thinking about winning a medal in Paris.” This canoeist is on the right track: on the 12th of May this year she won bronze for C1 200 and gold for C2 200, alongside María Corvera, at the World Cup held in Szeged (Hungary).

From an early age, both Antía and Sarai have learnt to live under pressure. Often, self-imposed pressure. “There were years —Sarai admits— when I didn’t enjoy myself completely because I pushed myself a lot. I’d tell myself over and over: I have to win, I have to win, I have to win. I’d go to competitions and all I wanted was to dive in the pool, for the race to go well, and go home.” Despite her youth, Antía, seems to have found the perfect attitude to face the sporting challenges that await her: “In the end, you have to enjoy yourself along the way, the main thing is what sport brings you every day.” Nevertheless, both admit to feeling nervous and isolated when a competition comes around, something they are both trying to leave behind. “Before a competition, I turn inwards —confesses Sarai—, I don’t feel like speaking to people because I feel like I need to be fully concentrated on the day so that it all goes well. In the last couple of years, I’ve gotten better at this.” And Antía takes up the baton: “I identify with you a lot because I used to cut myself off too. People used to bother me because I thought I needed to be super concentrated, but it does you no good to be by yourself.”

“The mindset I went to Tokyo with is very different to the one I have now, and I’m thinking about winning a medal in Paris” — Antía Jácome

Sarai trains daily near her house, specifically at the high-performance centre in Sant Cugat (Barcelona), while Antía, after several years living in Seville, trains in Alcudia (Mallorca), at facilities that aim to become a leading international canoeing centre. Both locations shape Spanish sporting talent but, what thoughts does the word talent bring to mind? “At a high-performance centre everyone is talented, but talent is multiplied when we support each other. If talent isn’t shared, it stops being talented,” notes Sarai. Talent grows when it connects and if we add hard work to this, as Antía states, we have a recipe for success. “You have to work on talent daily. You’re not born with talent, if you manage to become a talented person, it’s thanks to effort and dedication.”

Love for water and teaching
The conversation between Antía and Sarai turns to their beginnings in canoeing and swimming, respectively. “My father used to swim across La Lanzada beach every year —Antía remembers—. One year, we decided to accompany him in a kayak, and I loved the experience. On our way home I didn’t stop telling my parents that I wanted to do canoeing.” Perseverance is still one of the key traits of this Galician athlete today. Family also had a lot to do with that passion that Sarai developed for swimming since an incredibly young age: “My parents signed me up to swimming lessons when I was only three years old. I loved swimming, either in the sea or the pool, I wouldn’t get out of the water. When I was nine, a monitor saw me and was surprised that I swam so well, so he suggested I join a team.” At this point it’s worth mentioning that Sarai was born without her left arm, something that never held her back. “When I was little, people used to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to do certain things due to my disability, that I wouldn’t be able to drive, paint my nails, or tie my laces. But I’ve always said: Why not? I’ll prove it to you that I can.”

“When I was little, people used to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to do certain things due to my disability. But I’ve always said: Why not?” — Sarai Gascón

Water has always been present in the lives of Antía and Sarai, both of them need to have it close by. “I love going to the beach to unplug. My parents have a little house in a village in Tarragona and whenever I have some free time, that’s where I go. Even in winter, I like to take off my shoes, feel the sand between my toes and get my feet wet.” As if they were twins separated at birth, Antía’s answer isn’t very different. “I also love the sea and I got hooked on surfing two years ago. It helps me clear canoeing from my mind.” But the similarities between them don’t stop there, since both their futures are heading towards teaching. “We’re lucky to have two passions and enjoy them equally —celebrates Sarai—. I’ve always said that the experiences and values that sport brings you can be conveyed to students and that’s beautiful. I spent six months doing an internship and I enjoyed myself a lot because it’s when you put into practice everything you’ve studied.” In that moment, Antía’s face lights up: “I can’t wait for that moment because, in the end, it’s what I love about teaching.” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves because, for now, Sarai and Antía will give their next lesson in Paris.