Wikinews interviews Irene Villa

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Irene Villa after the interview with the Wikinews reporters.
Image: Raystorm.

Yesterday evening in La Molina, Spain, Wikinews sat down and talked with Irene Villa to discuss para-alpine skiing, disability sport, women's sport, and her own sporting career. Villa was in town as part of activities taking place around the 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships, where one of her skiing club teammates is competing as a member of the Spanish team. Her high profile in Spain has brought additional interest to para-alpine skiing and disability sport in general.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png: Hi we are interviewing Irene Villa, who is a disability skier from Spain and professional author, social figure, journalist, and psychologist. You are most well known for being a terrorist survivor, but you're here because of the [2013 Alpine Skiing] World Championships.((es))

Irene Villa: I'm here because I love sitting ski, I practice and I compete, but since I got pregnant and my son was born I stopped competing. But before I had my son I competed against the people who will run tomorrow, the Germans who win, and I wanted to be here. I haven't raced in the World Cup, but I did race in the European Cup. And well, I'm also here to support paralympic sports.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: In 2009 you said you were trying to make the 2010 Winter Paralympics. After giving birth are you going to continue with the sport and hope to make 2018?((es))

Irene Villa: I would love to. The thing is that you need a certain amount of IPCAS points. I'm now competing, on top of that I have an injury, tomorrow and the next day I will be training, and I don't know if I'll have enough time to make it. Sochi [Winter Paralympic Games of 2014] is right around the corner, next year, so it depends on how many point you've got. 2018? For sure.((es))
Listen to the interview.
Audio: Laura Hale.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: You compete in a lot of national competitions, and with disability sport in general, classification is a big issue. Competing in national competitions, does classification come into play, especially when there is so few women skiers in your group?((es))

Irene Villa: Yes, certainly. You see, I have an advantage because I have buttocks, I have abs. I have an advantage over a teammate who has a spinal injury here [points to the high part of the back] and also competes. So of course classification is very important because we cannot have an advantage. I believe in competing in equal fairness, and disabilities vary so much that you need a good classification. Issues because of classification? Well, I think we are pretty well classified. For example, my fingers [shows hand where she lost three fingers] are not taken into account in classification, there's always going to be a small detail that they don't count. This is a disadvantage when holding the outrigger, and yet I'm classified like someone who is missing half a leg, for example. I'm missing both legs and three fingers. But, it's really complicated to finetune it... Because then we would need to have twenty thousand classifications. This is what we have.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: Some of the skiers I've talked to in the mens' side, not in Spain, but from other countries, have complained about the quality of womens' skiing, and that there's not enough high quality competition. That's why I was interested in if classification was impacting women's skiing because there is so few women skiers, that classes seem they'd make it harder to find competitors in classes that are making the sport equitable and fair.((es))

Irene Villa: Of course. In the case of the women, it is really hard to get a woman skiing, to have her compete in sit-ski. In fact, in Spain we exist thanks to Fundación También, which insisted in there being a female category. There was no female category, no women who dared. And we're the same who started out in 2007. There has been no new blood because women don't dare, because it is a tough sport, that requires sponsors —that do not exist—, or your own money, and it also demands courage and withstanding bad moments. I've suffered cold and injuries, and had some really tough times. You take away the best with you, but it is very hard, and men resist the cold better.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: Your personal experiences have adequately prepared you to hurl yourself down the mountain at high speed? ((es))

Irene Villa: At the beginning, it was very scary. The first times were very hard: falls, injuries... I even dislocated my vertebra and got a prothesis for the neck because of a hernia, one teammate broke her clavicle, another her femur... It has a lot of risks, but the truth is, speed hooks you! Once you learn to plant the ski pole, angle yourself, learn the position you must use, which is like a motorcycle rider's, once you see you can run a lot and not fall, speed is addictive and you want to go faster.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: Most of the ski team looks like they come from the Madrid area? From the Fundación También?((es))

Irene Villa: In my team we are from everywhere in Spain. Even Nathalie Carpanedo is from France.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: How does a Frenchwoman become a Spanish skier?((es))

Irene Villa: Because she lives in Madrid. She has the Spanish nationality. Then we have another woman from the South of Spain, in Andalusia, from Tarragona in Catalonia, from Galicia... We are from all parts of Spain.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: So there's a national ski culture. People think of Spain as a place with beaches and no snow.((es))

Irene Villa: There's not too much tradition of paralympic skiing, to be true. There's less. But we do have Sierra Nevada and the Pyrenees.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: The Paralympics in Spain are supported by the Plan ADO Paralímpico. Do they provide enough support to women and to winter sports in general?((es))

Irene Villa: The people in the national squad, like Úrsula Pueyo, would know that. If Plan ADO helps someone, it's the people in the national team, those who dedicate their lives to the sport. They offered it to me when I was at my peak, in 2010, when I won my first gold medals and wasn't yet married. They offered me to move to Baqueira, where Úrsula lives, with Nathalie, and with a Catalan girl too, but I declined, because when you have a life, a daily job, events, conferences, travels.... you can't leave it all for the sport. But I think the Plan does help the people who dedicate themselves to the sport, like Úrsula.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: When I've read about disability skiing in Spain for women, they talk about you and they talk about Teresa Silva. Is there a way to get more attention for women skiers on that level, outside of using you and Teresa Silva as a vehicle? Not that you are not great for drawing attention! But how do you draw more attention to women's sports and high quality that women are capable of doing?((es))

Irene Villa: Oh, I would like that more people would join this sport or any other disability sport, that they practised it. And what we do is try to encourage them through the media, interviews, conferences... Teresa is the director of Fundación También, and she has access to talk with many people. As a speaker in motivation conferences and the like, I make people aware of it too. But it is difficult, because people try it out and love it, but will not race. Because racing is very risky and, well, you saw the slopes yesterday, sometimes they are hard, like a wall, and falling can be awful. But when we get the chance, we promote the sport and try to attract people that way, encouraging them to join this adventure that is sport.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: As an outsider from, not Spain, I know you are a political figure. Has that gotten in the way of your ability to be a sportswoman? ((es))

Irene Villa: No... Besides, that part about me being a political figure... I have nothing to do with politics. I don't know why people always... Why? Because of what happened to me. I was a kid. A 12 year old has nothing to do with politics. We know too that ETA has attacked people who had nothing to do with politics as well. My mother was a police director. What may have interfered is the fact that since I was a known figure I've tried that other people.... Let's see, for example I started doing sport so other people would know you could do sport. So it is true that the fact of being known has pushed me to do more things that I would've probably not have done. Because I wanted to show people that you could ski. And I ended up hooked. I only did it for a tv reportage. "Okay okay, a reportage and let's have people know that yes, we can". In fact, my book is titled "Knowing that you can" [Saber que se puede, in Spanish]. Later I got hooked. But the fact of being known motivates you to show other people a path that could be very beneficial to them, and at the end you get addicted to it.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: When all is said and done, what do you kind of want your legacy to be? Do you want to be known as Irene Villa, disability sport advocate figure? Do you want to be known like Jon Santacana, or do you want to be known as somebody who has pushed the boundaries in other areas? ((es))

Irene Villa: As something more. I'd like my testimony to go beyond sport, which is what I try to do around the world, besides telling people you can do it. It's about the capacity of a person to make herself, to be happy, to overcome resentment, to love herself, and to love others. I think that is the most important thing. And that's the basis. I think sport is something that completes your life, mentally and physically. It's very important. But my message is forgiveness, happiness and hope.((es))

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png: Thank you very much!((es))


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