João Mansos, a swimmer with two orthopaedic screws who needed to learn how to walk again, become a national triathlon champion. How his path was going on switching the sport career and what will he do after it? Read in this week #Sporting #LegendsForever story.
It all started when I was just 3 years old, influenced by my brother who was already swimming (for health reasons), my parents signed me up at the “Lisnave club” – the club embraced all aspects of swimming, from babies to training and competition. In this club I performed all the steps of swimming until reaching the pre-competition level, where I was given the opportunity to join the competition team, at the time I was 7/8 years old. I always had a very strong role in terms of team spirit, I was hardworking, very determined and over the years I became one of the best swimmers in the club.
At 11 I found the first major hurdle in my career as an athlete. Because my both feet were “flat” I was subjected to a corrective surgery where I have placed two orthopaedic screws. Because of this, I was forced to pause my academic and sports career. I could not walk for over a month and when I finally got the stitches out I realized I had a new task, learning to walk. I progressively moved from a wheelchair to crutches, then just a crutch and finally walking by myself, I just went back to swimming after learning how to walk again. A little over a year later I had a surgery to remove the orthopaedic screws and the process repeated once again (this time the healing process was faster).
After this period, I went back to swimming but I was no longer the athlete that I used to be. I wasn’t as resistant as before neither the fastest anymore. I went back to the slower track and then I’ve started to build the athlete that I am today. Feeling that what had happened to me wasn’t fair and wishing to be a better athlete, the best as I could, I fought for my dream with all of my will. In every training, I tried as hard as I could. I was listened, learned and corrected my techniques, in order to be able to evolve.
With resilience and dedication to the training I was evolving and when I reach to “Junior” I was designate Team Captain. The “obsession” with training and being better led me to try other sports, such as running, wherein the school sports had similar results with athletics athletes. Over time I began to stagnate in swimming and I discovered another sport (Triathlon). With the encouragement of my brother, who led me to a talent detection in “Jamor”, where I ranked 1st place.
At the end of a swimming season I decided to move to triathlon and try something new. I went to a neighbourhood club where I learned all about the sport and where I graduated triathlete. I won titles and helped the team accomplish their goals alongside mine. Once again the leadership and team spirit were recognized and years later I was invited to become a club coach, a role I played for two years as an athlete. For work reasons and wanting to experience another reality, I moved to Sporting Clube de Portugal, with humbler goals since in the previous club had tried higher goals and never reaching them.
In this club the reality was different, the training volume, the intensity and the workgroup itself made me evolve as an athlete leading me to the realization of an old dream, to represent the national team. In the first year representing Portugal, I made my best time so far, becoming a national triathlon champion, something that no one (nor me) was expecting. This year I represented the national team again and I am, undoubtedly, making my best season ever.
An interview with João Mansos
What does sport mean to you?
Sport is my life. I work as a Personal Trainer and class instructor at two different clubs, which at the same time interleave with my sports career. The sport fascinates me because it is able to make the most of people ‘s potential and turn them into their best version, brings a sense of pleasure and mission accomplished and this is a difficult feeling to leave.
How and when did you become interested in sports?
I’ve started at 3 years old because of the influence of my family. They always wanted us to be active and healthy and did everything to make it so, we went swimming because my brother had a health problem, but then we stayed in this mode for seventeen more years. My brother and I love to play sports and test our limits and have tried other sports as we grew up.
When did you realize you could have a sports career? And how did that make you feel?
Since I started on sports that I dreamed of being in important competitions. I remember going underwater and thinking that those last 25 meters were the 400 Crawl Olympic final and so I always wanted to feel what it would be like to be a world-class athlete. I quickly realized that in swimming I had no chance, my level was far from the best in the world, but when I ran I was easy and beat the track athletes and so I decided to try the triathlon. Since I entered I had the dream of representing the national team and that was my fuel until I hit it, but unlike swimming my level was not that different from the others and so I always believed. When I finally reached that level it was really a dream come true, a relief and a sense of mission accomplished.
Does your routine change a lot in the pre-competition and competition period?
I try to keep my routine similar to my usual routine, I have my work and training and it’s not always easy to reconcile everything, so I like to be focused on getting everything done, the only change I make is to focus more on rest, I try to sleep more and better.
What is your training routine like? How did you reconcile a sports life with school/work and family/social life?
I train every day at least twice a day, I always try to relate to work. The management I do is simple, I get the planning in advance and I save those training hours, from there I fit everything else, work family and friends. It’s not always easy to manage the times, especially the social side, but I always try to be present on my friend’s birthdays and other important social events. I speak regularly with them. They know how my life is and respect and admire it. They know if they call me because they really need me that I will be there for them. As for the family, they are always present, daily helping me and without them, I would not be the athlete that I am, my friends and family are one of my greatest strengths.
What was your best time as an athlete? How did you feel?
My best moment, as a sportsman, was without a doubt, when I became a national triathlon champion. I wasn’t the favourite and in my mind, I was far from being able to discuss the top places. I came from an altitude stage and I felt that I was in my the best, the competition went almost flawlessly and when I realized that I was going to win, it was a burst of emotions. It was a feeling of victory for all that I had gone before, knowing that my efforts and commitment would be rewarded made me feel in shock and full of strength. I just couldn’t believe that I had accomplished the winning! At that moment I wanted to share that feeling with my loved ones! I will remember forever the moment where I embrace them and all of those emotions where shared, it was the happiest moment ever.
What was your worst moment as an athlete? How did you feel?
That was when I was a swimmer and had returned from the operation. All my colleagues swam more than me, even the ones who had join the team for less than a month, so I felt unable. I couldn’t follow their rhythms, I was frustrated because before I could, before it was one of the bests from our team, and then I was the worst. Literally. Going to tests at this stage was also difficult because I was always in the “worst” series and felt sorry for not being able to be better. It was a very difficult time, but, fortunately I was able to turn around and use the tough times as motivation to become an athlete and a better person.
What do you plan to do when you finish your career as an athlete or how did you adapt to “civil” life?
I haven’t thought about it yet because I still have dreams to realize, but essentially I wish to stay connected to sport and until then realize if the other interests I have in life make sense or not.
What advice would you give to young athletes starting their sports career?
Believe in your dreams! I have a maxim taught by one of the coaches that struck me most that says “who works is always rewarded” and I really believe in that. Throughout my sports career, I have always worked and strived to get the best possible results, if you do the same, be patient and focused I have no doubt that sooner or later things will come up.
Any particular stories or examples you want to mention?
Everything in our lives needs work and dedication. Nothing falls from the sky beside rain, much less we achieve what we want without making choices that often are really difficult. The way to reach what we most desire is and will always be troubled, but if we keep the confidence and believe in us, we can get there. An example of this is the competition where I became a national champion, where at the entrance to the transition park I fell to the ground, losing 10 seconds and the group that led the race. Believing I could do a good test, wanting to show what I was capable of, I got up, continued running, and despite my injuries cut the finish in first.
Interview to Pedro Mansos, João Mansos Brother
Who is João for you?
João is my brother who I admire the most.
What features do you admire most about it?
The features that I admire the most on my brother are his dedication, determination and consistency.
What do you think are the biggest difficulties athletes face when deciding to end their sports career?
In my opinion, some of the major problems are based on some potential lack of focus for other activities and to setting new goals outside sports. I believe that one of the major difficulties are related to the adaptation to a new routine, and some possible technical/theoretical skills to enter the job market.
What could be changed (socially) to facilitate the reintegration of athletes?
I think that should be better flexibility of school hours/workload to combine studies and sport (at the secondary level, higher education or for vocational training). And maybe a program to increase athletes’ financial literacy during and after the end of their careers.