Isaquias Queiroz Dos Santos didn’t just have to train hard to earn Brazil its first medal in an Olympic canoeing event – he had to survive. Now 22, Queiroz has reached the pinnacle of his sport – the Olympics – and made history by becoming Brazil’s first athlete ever to win three medals at an Olympics event.
Queiroz, who narrowly lost to Germany’s Sebastian Brendel to win silver in the men’s single 1,000-metre canoe race last Tuesday, escaped death three times before he
At age three, a pot of boiling water fell on him, burning large sections of his body. Doctors told his mother to prepare for his death, according to Brazil’s O Globo newspaper. But she refused to believe the doctor, and she was right.
But while Queiroz’s body healed, life still got harder for him. At age five, Queiroz, who grew up in a poor community, was kidnapped. His father also died that year. Queiroz was eventually returned to his mother unharmed, but tragedy would strike again five years later.
At age 10, Queiroz fell out of a tree and onto a rock while trying to get a better look at a snake hanging from a branch. Doctors found his kidney had nearly split in two. They eventually removed the kidney.
That last hardship stayed with Queiroz for life, not only in the form of a scar, but in the nickname “Sem Rim”, which means “Missing Kidney”.
While doctors warned Queiroz to stay away from sports, the resilient kid had other plans.
“I never thought if I would have a complicated life because of that,” Queiroz says. “As soon as I could, I came back and had a normal life.”
“Normal” is probably not the right word. With his win last Tuesday, Queiroz became a superstar in his homeland, and especially in his home town of Ubaitaba. There, at the age of 11, he got involved in canoeing thanks to a government-funded project. “From his first contact with the water, I realised that he was good, that he had something special,” Queiroz’s childhood coach, Figueroa Conceicao, said.
Queiroz quickly rose through the ranks in the canoeing world. At 17, he became a junior world champion. At 19, he won his first world title. He’s since won two more.
“My race [last Tuesday] was very good,” he said.
“I lost a little there at the end, but getting the silver medal at my first Olympics is very good.”
But Queiroz’s Olympic quest didn’t end there. He returned to the water on Wednesday hoping to win gold but ended up with a bronze in the single 200-metre sprint. On Friday, he teamed up with Erlon Silva to claim silver in the double 1,000-metre race.
Queiroz had said that representing his country in Rio was an emotional experience, but he managed to keep those emotions in check and reach his potential, setting a new personal best not only for himself, but for his country, too.