364 days remain for the Santiago 2023 Parapan American Games. there he hopes to be Mariana Zuniga: the national archer, who won a silver medal in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and this year she entered as the only para-athlete to win a medal in the South American Games conventional, is one of the national names that paints to shine in the great event that will be held in our capital.
This November he will face the qualifier that signs his assistance in the largest multi-sports event that has been held in Chile. But first, he sat down to talk with RedGol about his tremendous career -with just 20 years old- and what he expects from Santiago 2023, where he will seek to ensure his qualification to the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
A Pixar princess inspired her
When Mariana was just 10 years old, Pixar released her first movie about a princess: she was Brave, with the archer Mérida as its protagonist. It was there where his desire to take up a bow was born. “I told my mom that I wanted to practice and her response was ‘OK, let’s see where we can practice.’ She has always been a fixer and she accepted,” she told RedGol.
It was his mother, Rosa Varela, who then became his main fan. Mariana was born with myelomeningocele, which means that her spine failed to form and she cannot walk, and it is she who “takes her everywhere” and who enrolled her in her first archery course in 2012. Five years later, when she was 15, Mariana decided that this was her way.
Silver medal in Tokyo 2020
“I remember that moment and I feel all the adrenaline,” Mariana told RedGol. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which had to be postponed a year as a result of the pandemic, were the first time she had traveled alone to a competition. At 19 years old and from distant Japan, she brought her first medal: a silver one, which she won after defeating the Russian Stepanida Artakhinova in archery semifinals and losing in the final against the British Phoebe Paterson.
“I always said that my idea was to go and gain experience and see what would happen, I never expected to arrive in Chile with a medal. At that moment I just thought that I had nothing to lose, I had already gained a lot of experience, which was my goal, so I I handed in. I won and, when they handed me the medal, I didn’t even have my award shirt, because winning never crossed my mind,” he says.
“I got on the podium, they handed me my medal, I looked at it and thought: what did I just do? I couldn’t believe it, I was in shock. I put the medal on, the flags started going up, the Great Britain anthem played ( which was gold), but just seeing the Chilean flag going up was a tremendous and indescribable emotion, I just wanted to cry,” he continues.
A record in the Odesur 2022
A little over a month ago, Mariana Zúñiga competed in mixed compound archery and became the only para-athlete to win a medal at the conventional South American Games. Competing with non-disabled athletes is something she’s always wanted to do and will continue to do “until she drops it.”
“My idea was always to participate in the conventional one, because it was the only way to measure myself because we did not have the necessary number of people to make a Paralympic ranking. And two, because I also wanted to show those who arrive that one can do it, that It is the same sport for everyone, which is something very inclusive and that everyone can do it, the only limit is what one has inside”, he commented.
“My idea is to participate in conventional competitions here until I get bored to measure myself and so I also have more preparatory events in the year. My main objective is to get to Paris 2024. If a competition comes out that can help me to get to that in a good way , welcome,” he continues.
Heading to Santiago 2023
In a few days, Mariana will face the qualifier to be able to be in Santiago 2023. As a national athlete, the goalkeeper comments that she is more than excited to receive all the support of these last two years, but live and direct. And in her country. “We are all super excited and some are super anxious, there is one year left and we are all with expectations,” she says.
“There is a bit of pressure because a lot of people will be watching, but it is also nice because there is a lot of support behind it. When I was at Tokyo 2020 I received many messages from people who were waiting, who stayed until dawn to see me and who screamed when I I won. It’s something that I keep in my heart and that I would like to live here in Chile. What better than being here and face-to-face, that you feel all the support of the people”, celebrates the athlete.