Sam Von Einem Aiming For Gold In Tokyo

Australian Table Tennis player Sam von Einem is one of the famous faces at Virtus and at the Paralympic Games. He’s won many medals at international and national Para Table Tennis events with his biggest achievement to date being when he grabbed the silver medal at Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Mousumi Mazumdar, Virtus’s Communications Intern caught up with him to talk about his athletic career to date and future aspirations.

Can you tell us about your background? Like how and why you started playing?

Sam: I started to play Table Tennis when I was residing in United Arab Emirates back in 2003. When my Family moved to the UAE, the weather there was very warm for a lot of the year and too warm to play my usual sports of Tennis and Soccer at the time. At home we had a Table Tennis table and at the school also they were teaching table tennis to us so I started learning and playing the game a lot with family and friends from school.

I first participated in a Table Tennis tournament when I was 11 years old after I moved back home from the UAE. I played in mainstream events around South Australia. I competed in my first International Para Table Tennis tournament when I was 18 years old in Hungary and never looked back.

Who are the people who helped you get into your sport?

Sam: The people who support me are my family (parents and my brother) and the club coach. The coach at the time helped me in my training. My mom helped me with starting the process in getting classified in para sport which give me the opportunity in playing in a Paralympic Games

What does being able to compete in sport events mean to you?

Sam: I’ve always had a big passion for sports and the opportunity to travel around the world and compete in sport events was like a big dream for me. Getting involved in Para Table Tennis made this dream into a reality and I am very grateful for the opportunities which came to me because I was involved in Para sports.

What have you learned from your past competitions that is helping you to be better at the next event?

Sam: Every event has provided me a different type of learning experience. I have learned what makes me play at my best and what to do to make sure I’m fully prepared for every match I have to play. Also, remembering that the goal is always to play well in all my matches and not everything is necessarily about winning. They have taught me valuable life lessons.

What events are you training for at the moment?

Sam: I am currently training for Domestic tournaments around Australia which will provide match practice up until the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. In these unpredictable times when travelling overseas is very unlikely, home tournaments are keeping me busy, fit and spirits up for the big game.

If you are going to Tokyo Paralympics, tell us about how you are preparing.

Sam: I have qualified a slot for the Paralympic Games although I cannot say that I have qualified for the Games just yet. Anyways, I am preparing by training 5-6 times a week at home in Adelaide with some trips into Melbourne to train and play tournaments around Australia. I won Silver in Rio 2016 Games and I am keeping an eye on the gold this time.

What are you most excited about for the Paralympics?

Sam: Assuming I get to the Games, I am always excited to represent my country on the biggest stage for all Para Athletes. Participating in the Games is what I strive for and always very eager to play the best players in the biggest tournaments and matches.

What is your goal for the Paralympics?

Sam: As mentioned earlier, at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games I won the silver medal which is serving as a big motivation and a target to leave behind in the upcoming Games in Tokyo. I would love to turn my silver medal into Gold this time and bring it home.

What would it mean for you and your country if you brought home a Gold/Silver/Bronze medal?

Sam: Winning a medal of any colour at the Paralympics is something that will always mean a lot to myself and Table Tennis in Australia but it is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted as we have to compete with the world’s best. It will definitely be a big win for my country too.

Can you tell the readers a little about your training program?

Sam: I train 5-6 times a week playing table tennis and 3 times a week in the gym plus whatever appointments I have for example with physio, psychologist etc.

During Covid I had to stay at home for an extended period because of the restrictions that were brought in, during this time I was able to practice hits at home with my robot and do gym sessions with the equipment I had at home. It was a challenging time not being able to practice properly with another person at the end of table and being limited with the gym equipment I had and I think it was same for most of the athletes. We all just had to make the most out of what we had and that’s what I did.

What would you like to say to your family, friends or coach who support you?

Sam: I would like to say a big thank you to all my family and friends, training partners, Table tennis Australia (TTA) and the South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) for always supporting and assisting me in achieving my goals and for always being there to help through the highs and lows of the elite sporting world. It is not possible to achieve great results without the support they provide me as it cannot be done by yourself.

What would you like to say to another person with intellectual impairment thinking about getting into sports?

Sam: If another person with an Intellectual Impairment wants to get into a sport, I would tell them to go for it and to remember winning isn’t everything and the main goal is to always try your best and enjoy the sport they are participating in. At the end of the day, sports is about having fun and meeting people with same interest in the sport.

THANK YOU SO MUCH for giving us your time Sam. Good luck with your practice for Tokyo 2020. We will promote and advocate for more access, more opportunities and more people to be part of the Virtus journey to inclusive sport.

Great Britain’s Kiera Byland: Daring to dream

Great Britain’s Kiera Byland is ‘daring to dream’ of multiple medals from both the road and track during the 2019 Global Games in Brisbane, Australia, from 12-19 October.

Byland is the defending women’s time trial and road race world champion, but is also hoping to excel in the team events as well as at the velodrome when track cycling makes its debut.

“I’m excited to be representing Great Britain through UKSA [UK Sports Association, the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport national member]. For the first time I will be able to compete in the female road team time trial with Lauren [Booth] and do track racing which I’m really looking forward to,” Byland said. “My goal is to be the best that I can be, to try and get some PB’s [personal bests] if I can and anything else will be an added bonus.”

In 2018 Byland grabbed double world gold in Paris, France. But the podium is not her only focus.

“I could say the medals are one of the less important things, what is really precious are the friendships you build through it. Sport definitely gave me an opportunity and changed my life.”

The last couple of years have seen Byland progress her performance and form rapidly. She made her international debut at the worlds in 2017, sealing double gold again and has not looked back.

As part of her rise to the top, the British rider has also used her talents as a platform to inspire other women and people with intellectual impairments.

Byland is now a motivational speaker and gets the chance to address children who might be facing the same challenges as she did as a youngster. The 21-year-old also attends business school but has one eye on a coaching career, maybe transferring her skills into her other sport of swimming.

“When I was younger, back at school, it was really hard for me,” Byland said. “I had problems of bullying, I did not have a big self-confidence. I believe that in these situations people should step in, even a nice gesture can make a huge difference.

“At the beginning it was not easy, I passed from not being able to ride a bike at all to competitions in a very short time. It was something that happened day after day, you gain that awareness you can do it.

“It was not a dream at the beginning, but it became one. Probably we just need to dare to dream sometimes. This is what I say to all the people who are in the situation I was: just dare to dream.”

The 2019 Global Games will feature nearly 1,000 athletes competing in 10 sports, including road and track cycling. Road cycling takes place from 14-15 October ahead of the debut of track cycling on 17 and 19 October.

The Global Games are the world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with intellectual impairments.

Jeremy Pereira and Leo Collet compete in the time trial at the 2018 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Cycling World Championships

Collet targets Global Games triple

By Giuseppe Napoli and Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

France’s Leo Collet is targeting a Global Games triple in just over a month’s time, hoping to add individual road cycling crowns to his team world title in Brisbane, Australia.

In 2018, Collet was one half of a winning French duo – alongside Jeremy Pereira – that claimed the men’s team time trial gold at home in Paris, France.

However Collet’s performance was not matched in the individual events. A seventh and 13th place finish in the time trial and road race, respectively, left him well away from the podium. Now Collet has had more than one year to change his fortunes.

“The beginning of last year was somewhat catastrophic, but I kept improving and the team time trial competition was way better,” he said. “I think I could have done better if I had trained better. Now I want to win three medals in the three races, after all my goal is to do my best all the times”.

The French team has been preparing for the Global Games with an intense training camp, with extra benefits.

“The training for cycling is quite hard. We need to wake up quite early and I personally watch cycling videos to keep my motivation high. I must say that recovery is the best part of this all: we make massages, balneotherapy and sprint exercises.”

Despite being fairly new to cycling at the highest levels Collet, who started the sport when he was 12, already has a collection of good and bad memories: “I remember my first race ever, it was so bad. Nevertheless, I insisted and year after year I have improved a lot. My first cap in the French team in Paris, and the world champions title in the team time trial with Jeremy, were definitively the highlights of my career.”

The 2019 Global Games are expected to attract nearly 1,000 athletes who will compete in 10 sports between 12-19 October.

Countries from around the world will compete, gathered by their respective national Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport members.

“The Fédération française du Sport adapté is like a second family for me,” Collet said. “I am looking forward to the competitions in Brisbane. In general, I have a good relationship with my colleagues and there is a nice atmosphere in these events. I am truly happy to be part of this.”

Janina Falk poses with her medal from the 2017 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Swimming World Championships

Falk set to make World Championships debut

By Alison Thompson and Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Austrian teenager Janina Falk has her sights set on success at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London, Great Britain, from 9-15 September, as she plans her Paralympic debut.

At 16-years-old, Falk already has some good experience under her belt including medals from international competitions.

These include golds from the 2016 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Swimming Championships (Europe) and bronze from the 2017 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Swimming Championships aged 14.

The rising star, who competes in S14 events, is now ecstatic to be making her Worlds debut in London.

“I am very happy and proud that I have qualified for the World Championships and training is going very well,” Falk said. “Plus, since it’s the school holidays, I can train eight times a week in the water.”

Such dedication and hard work is certainly paying off for Falk, who started swimming at eight years old. She is also a versatile athlete, with her medals so far coming from butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle over distances ranging from 50m to 800m.

“The three gold medals I won at the 2016 European Championships were a great success for me.  It was amazing when the Austrian national anthem was played at the award ceremony.  It was my first big competition and motivated me to train even harder. Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport competitions are the cornerstones of my career, the successes have motivated me a lot.”

Most recently Falk has seen success at the European Para Youth Games in Finland, describing competing in the multiclass event as “the highlight of my career so far.”

Her success at such a young age has meant that Falk has started to lay the groundwork for becoming a national treasure. For three years between 2015-17 she was named the Austrian Disabled Sports Association Young Athlete of the Year.

“It makes me very proud that I was able to win the junior athlete’s choice three times as a mentally impaired athlete,” she said.

By the very nature of her success, Falk typically competes against older athletes but is undaunted by the prospect: “For me it is important to have opponents who are a challenge to me, no matter how old they are.

“Who are currently my opponents I could not say, I am currently focusing only on myself. The biggest thing I’ve learnt in my career so far is that you must never give up, you have to fight to the end.”

From starting out at Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport competitions, through to World Para Swimming events, Falk now has her sights on success on the biggest stage of them all: “My goal is the Paralympics in Tokyo, I will also train with a private trainer and also swim more training sessions a week.”

For Falk, Para swimming is a great leveller and means she can reach her best.

“In the water I feel free, it does not matter if I have a handicap or not”

Luke Turnbull is pictured as he is about to hit the ball with his tennis racket

Turnbull prepares for potential Global Games debut

By Mariam Khan | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Great Britain’s world and European medallist Luke Turnbull is relishing the chance to take on the world’s top ranked tennis players when he makes his Global Games debut in Brisbane, Australia, from 12-19 October.

Turnbull, who lives in Scotland, has big plans to build on his successes from 2018 when he won bronze in the men’s doubles with Thomas Mellor at the World Intellectual Impairment Sport Tennis World Championships in Paris, France.

When asked what his objectives for Brisbane 2019 are, Turnbull said: “To be selected, win a medal and improve my world ranking.”

As he looks towards his chance in the singles, Turnbull thinks he will face a tough fight.

“The top four opponents can be challenging to play against,” he said referring to, amongst others, Australia’s world No.1 Archie Graham.

Turnbull is playing in as many competitions as he can between now and October to be at his best in Brisbane.

He began playing tennis at the age of three after his mother introduced him to the sport. He used to sit at the side of the court in a baby chair watching her play.

Having moved to North Berwick in Scotland recently, he is also making waves on the local tennis scene. He plays for the North Berwick Men’s first team and for Edinburgh’s St. Serf’s under 16 and under 18 junior teams. As an under 14 player, Turnbull ranked was ranked No. 4 in Scotland.

Luke Turnbull is pictured with Andy Murray

Turnbull’s hero is Andy Murray who he met right before competing in Paris, in Roehampton, Great Britain. For him, how the game makes him feel is what he enjoys the most:

“It gives me purpose and confidence, and makes me feel good.”

The Global Games are world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with an intellectual impairment.

The 2019 edition runs from 12-19 October and is expected to attract more than 1,000 athletes competing in 10 sports. The event will act as the World Championships for tennis.

Nikesha Harding leans o the side of the pool and smiles at the camera

Australia’s Harding hopes for home success at Global Games

By Alison Thompson | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

Swimmer Nikesha Harding has spoken of her determination to help Australia maintain their place at the top of the medals table when the 2019 Global Games come to Brisbane from 12-19 October.

In five short months the city will welcome over 1,000 athletes competing in 10 sports. With Australia being top of the medals table at the 2015 edition in Ecuador, and top of the all-time table, all eyes will be on the home nation.

For Harding, the Global Games are extra special this time around: “It’s fantastic to be part of any Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport national team no matter what sport. It’s the team that makes the event so special, and I’m confident Australia will win this Global Games at home.

“It’s so very special to have the Games in Brisbane and to be able to represent my country at home. To have fellow Australians, and especially my proud family see me swim, will be amazing.”

Harding’s goal is crystal clear. “My personal ambition is to help Australia become the champions and to become a champion in front of my home crowd”.

The New South Wales swimmer comes to the games with formidable experience and success in the pool, including being a medal winner at the 2017 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Swimming Championships

“Winning at the Championships felt awesome,” Harding said. “It was the best feeling imaginable, like all the hard training had paid off. I felt so very proud.”

At just 20 years old, Harding is one of Australia’s brightest stars. She is currently the world No.1 in the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport rankings for the 200m butterfly II1 and 5th in the 100m in the same stroke.

“Having these rankings makes me feel proud and special and I like that my achievements are recognised,” Harding said.

But now, like the rest of her teammates, the young Australian is focused on October’s Global Games with regular training and continuing to improve her results:

“I swam great personal bests at the recent national championships. I love my new club and my new coach and together we are making further improvements.”

Harding is set to compete in her usual mix of strokes at Brisbane 2019, but despite her strength and success, she is fully aware of what she, and the team, has to do to achieve the success they want.

“Brazil and China are both very strong teams but for me personally, my biggest opponent in butterfly will be Leslie Cichocki from the USA.”

Cichocki currently sits just one place behind Harding in the 100m butterfly rankings and two places behind in the 200m. Both athletes will compete at the Global Games with one eye on the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

But with all the hard work comes the importance of relaxation and downtime to recharge and refocus. “I love to see my friends every day and we see each other outside the pool and do fun things.

“Swimming helps clear my mind and improves my self-confidence and yes, sometimes it’s hard when I don’t achieve the times I would like to. But when I do swim well, it is all worth it.”

The Global Games are world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with an intellectual impairment.

The 2019 edition runs from 12-19 October and is expected to attract more than 1,000 athletes competing in 10 sports.


A female basketball player is pictured during practice, looking towards the net whilst holding a basketball in her hand

Kaitlyn Papworth: From backyard basketball to success

By Alison Thompson | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

The 2019 Global Games in Brisbane, Australia, are now just six months away.  For basketball player Kaitlyn Papworth, the competition means a little more this time as her homeland plays host.

“I am looking forward to having the opportunity to play basketball in Brisbane as it will make us a stronger team without the extra travel and show the Australian crowd our team talent for the first time,” Papworth said.

Catching the basketball bug from an early age, Papworth has risen through the ranks achieving notable success with the Australian Pearls women’s team.

“Basketball keeps me fit and motivated and has always been a great hobby of mine. I could bounce a basketball by the time I was two and always practiced with my brothers and dad in the backyard,” Papworth proudly commented

Her early passion led to an important chance meeting with teacher and Assistant Pearls Coach, Jo Larkin. That, combined with a strong personal ambition, meant the youngster began to make her mark: “In 2001 I started playing basketball after school and played domestic basketball throughout most years since.”

On her move to high school, Papworth met Larkin who encouraged her to try out for the Ivor Burge Victoria Metro Women’s team, named after one of the founding fathers of basketball in Australia.

Then, at the age of just 13, Papworth was selected to try out for the Australian Pearls. Only three years later, she represented her country at the World Intellectual Impairment Sport Basketball World Championships in Rome, Italy, in 2008.

Her success continued in the Ivor Budge National Championships and Papworth continues to be an integral part of the Pearls team today.

With obvious natural talent, Papworth’s achievements are many including Most Valued Player at the 2011 and 2013 Worlds as well as winner of the 19th Junior Basketball Award for Female Athletes in 2011 in Australia.

The player also had notable success at the 2017 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Basketball World Championships with 21 goals: “I feel quite honoured to know that I was the third top scorer.  I have had many great coaches that I have trained with who have helped me in many areas of the game and in particular helped me to develop my shooting technique.”

But with all that success, the job in hand for Papworth and the Pearls are the 2019 Global Games.

“In the past competitions Japan have been a strong opponent because they are very quick on the court but with a few new teams coming to the Global Games this year, they could also provide very strong competition,” Papworth said. “More personal to me is that for the first time my family and friends will be able to see me play for the Pearls. I am very excited to have them there to support me and the team. They are very proud of my basketball career and have been very supportive in helping me to be involved in all the Championships I have played in.”

So with that in mind, preparation has begun in earnest. Team training camps begin this month (April) and will continue until the games begin. In addition, Pearls Head Coach Larry Davidson will also create individual training programmes for each player to complete a few days a week on their own.

It is clear that the team are motivated and ready for the Global Games. For Papworth, inspiration comes from former Australian player Lauren Jackson who famously played for the national under 20 team when she was just 14 years old and captained the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics team.

“I was given a large framed print of Lauren to hang in my room when I was 21. She has always been my hero and is someone I have always looked up to and admired her dedication to the game,” Papworth said.

“I am really looking forward to playing basketball at the highest level in my own country and my personal ambition is to play well and contribute to the team in the hope of helping the Australian Pearls win the gold medal.”

The Global Games are world’s biggest high performance sports event for athletes with an intellectual impairment.

The 2019 edition runs from 12-19 October and is expected to attract more than 1,000 athletes competing in 11 sports. The event will act as the World Championships for basketball.


Lenine Cunha on reaching 200 career medals, his mother and life as an athlete

Portugal’s Lenine Cunha is a familiar face on the Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport and Paralympic stage.

This week, the London 2012 bronze medallist will go for his 200th career medal at the 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Indoor Athletics Championships (Europe) organised by Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport Europe in Istanbul, Turkey.

Find out more about the Portuguese track and field athlete – one of the most prolific athletes with an intellectual impairment in the world.

Gaurav Mokhasi (GM) for Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport: You have competed in triple jump, decathlon, hurdles, 200m, high jump, pentathlon, heptathlon, long jump, pole vault. Are you unique amongst athletes in playing and being good at so many sports? Which sport is your favorite?

Lenine Cunha (LC): Everyone is unique in their own way! We are all different from each other and that’s what makes the world such a beautiful and diverse place. I have my way of training, I have my own life experiences, I have my own personality and that makes me who I am, yes unique, like everyone else! I love sport and athletics in general but I must confess that long jump and triple jump are definitely my favorite.

GM: When did you discover you were good at sports? When did you decide to do this full-time and make it your career?

LC: As it is known already, I suffered from meningitis at the age of four and, aiming to help in my recovery and mental development, my beloved mother signed me up in sports. I enjoyed it more and more as time went by and it made so much sense that it didn’t take long for us to realise that it was the best decision my mother could’ve made. I was becoming stronger, fitter, more disciplined every day and before I even realised it, I had already found the great passion of my life. So that said, I truly believe that I didn’t choose Sports. Life made that choice for me.

GM: Could you tell us a bit about your experience with meningitis and intellectual impairment? How has that struggle shaped your outlook on sports and life? How important was your mother’s support during your formative years?

LC: Well, it obviously must have been a shocking experience to my family, however, and I say this all the time, it was at the same time a terrible event and a happy coincidence because if it were not because of meningitis I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today. The remnants left from meningitis were the main reason my mother signed me up in sports, I lost the ability of walking, talking, listening and my cognitive development was far behind other kids my age. So it was definitely a struggle to keep up in school, human relations and consequently my shyness regarding other kids, you know bullying is real and I just didn’t fit in the “normal” world. My mother in her infinite love obviously realised that and she didn’t want me to suffer but at the same time she refused to quit on me. So she made the decision that changed my life completely. You know, sports helped me a lot in every possible way, the help I got from my colleagues, my motor coordination, emotions, pretty much everything improved with sports. I will always be thankful to my mother for that.

Can you tell us a bit about your social work raising awareness of meningitis and intellectual impairments?

I am often invited to be in talks to share my life experience so that said, every time I have the chance to speak about the importance of vaccination regarding meningitis I will always try to give hope because there is and I am the real example of it!

What was your experience competing at the World Intellectual Impairment Sport European Games in Paris last year like? You won two silver and three bronze medals.

After being absent for a long time because of my knee surgery it was amazing to go back to competitions. It was obviously even better to win five medals knowing that I was not feeling 100 per cent yet so yes, it felt great!

You have stated that you are going after your 200th career medal. How do you keep yourself motivated after such a long career and so many medals?

Being passionate about something is the greatest motivation. This is just a goal that I placed in my mind and that said, being stubborn helps a lot! Before I could even realize, I already had 134 medals! After that, I placed a goal in my mind, to reach 200 medals. I am extremely happy to be so close, I have no reason to not be very motivated!

How do you keep yourself fit and going at the age of 35? What is your training regimen and diet like? Has it evolved over the years or more or less remained the same?

I am actually very cautious with my wellbeing in general. I try to eat clean and on time to make sure everything goes well. I am well aware of my age and I know that my body does not respond as if I was 20. That said, I know that I have to take a great care of my body and mind and it’s actually working because I’m still in the run for the podium.

Once you achieve 200 medals, what will your next target be?

I will focus on the other part of my goal. To assemble a valuable team that can help me create my own sports team so I can give back to others like me in order to provide them the right opportunities.

What has been your career’s biggest and most memorable achievement?

Without a doubt, winning the bronze medal at the London Paralympic Games in 2012 was the most memorable achievement of my career. I had lost my mother only a few weeks before that and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it to the Games. But somehow I did and I felt my mother with me at that time. That will always be the biggest moment of my career.

You got a bronze model at the London Paralympic Games in 2012, after not competing at the Paralympics for 12 years. How did you feel standing on the podium?

As I answered in the previous question, it was a very special moment for me. After 12 years without competing, going through a very hard time because of my mother’s passing and still reaching the podium for my country was…indescribable.

What is the role that your coach Jose Costa Pereira have played in your success?

About my coach Jose, we are together for 20 years already and there is no other way to say this: If it wasn’t for him, I would not be the athlete and the man I am today. My success is our success, it only happened because of him.

Portugal has a great sporting culture. What has the support for Portuguese people and government been like for you?

Portuguese people have been supporting me for a long time now and I feel very grateful for that. The government is showing significant changes regarding the support for Paralympic athletes. They are now, gradually, equating the monetary support between Olympic athletes and Paralympic athletes so, it’s finally getting better for all of us.

You suffered an injury and had to undergo surgery in 2017. What was your experience of coming back from that like? Do you have any advice for athletes recovering from injury?

My best advice is: Be patient! I got frustrated so many times because I wanted to go back to training so bad and I just couldn’t. That didn’t help at all. So, needless to say, as soon as I could go back to training, I was a happy man!

What do you like to do when not playing sports? What do you do to relax?

Music! Listening to music is my other passion! I absolutely love to relax while listening to music. Browse on the internet is something that I also enjoy very much.

Can you tell us about the sports academy that you have started?

It is still at a very embryonic stage, however, I believe that I’ve already found the right team to join and help me making this dream come true, especially my manager, Judite Freitas, that besides being a great friend, is also the ice prPesident of the Sport Club Lenine Cunha.  It is a project that is open to everyone, without exception and which aims to mostly provide the right opportunities for those who are determined to pursue athletics. Basically, I want to become a coach and pass my experience in order to help people thrive in athletics. However, if someone does not want to pursue a professional career in athletics, it doesn’t mean that they can’t join us in the club, as I said before, it is open to everyone who is open to adopt a healthy lifestyle and that have good values to share, since I believe that we can learn from each other. I feel like it will be a place where everyone should feel included in order to become better and better every day, in every way.

What is your goal at the Global Games in Brisbane? Do you plan to compete in another Paralympics (Tokyo 2020)?

To give the best of me and to be as well classified as I can and yes, I plan to compete in Tokyo 2020 knowing that will probably be my last time competing in an event like this.

What do you think your legacy will be? What would you like to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered for never giving up! I want people to look at me and see hope. And I want people to know that, even when everything looks dark, you can still thrive and be the best in the world if you believe!

The 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Athletics Indoor Championships (Europe) run from 8-10 March. You can also catch Cunha in action at the 2019 Global Games from 12-19 October – the world’s biggest high performance sport event for athletes with intellectual impairments.

Volegov aims high at 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Skiing World Championships

By Lotte Rooijendijk | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

The 2019 International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Impairments (World Intellectual Impairment Sport) Skiing World Championships will get underway across two French venues on Wednesday (6 March) with the tracks highlighted by defending champion Ivan Volegov.

For the Russian cross-country skier, who won his first world title in the men’s 10km freestyle in 2018, there is no mountain high enough. Volegov is aiming to triumph in all races but is well-aware of the strong rivalry coming from his opponents. “I know these skiers, they are very strong and able to contest the victory,” Volegov said.

Of his gold medal from Zakopane, Volegov continued: “I took pride in my nation, in myself and in my coach Alexandre Golev, who put a lot of effort in my training for this Championships.”

In France, cross-country skiers from around 12 countries will compete in Autrans-Méaudre En Vercors between 6-10 March.

This time around, Volegov says he has been working on building his speed and power. He plans to: “make every possible effort to achieve the victory in the Championships. I am looking forward to victories and golden medals for my nation.”

The 23-year old first tried skiing when he was 13 years old. His favourite place to train is the trail in the forest of Savino in the Ural mountains as he describes the nature being very beautiful there.

At the top of the mountains is where everything makes sense for the Russian: “In skiing I enjoy overcoming difficulties. On the skies I trust myself. Sport takes the lead in my everyday life. Thanks to skiing I have a daily routine, and I am able to plan my day and scope”.

The 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Skiing World Championships head to France from 6-10 March. As well as cross-country skiing, alpine skiing will also be contested at nearby Lans En Vercors.

The Championships will be covered live on World Intellectual Impairment Sport Twitter and Instagram from 7 March, when competition gets underway.


A female cyclist from Russia is pictured during the time trial. Her mouth is open and her hair is blowing with the speed she is travelling at

Russia’s Nikitina in the hunt for cycling gold at World Intellectual Impairment Sport Global Games

By Giuseppe Napoli | For Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport

The 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Global Games in Brisbane, Australia, from 12-19 October will be the ideal frame for a mosaic of different sport stories.

Around 1,000 athletes from 80 countries will compete in 11 sports with one goal:  the gold rush.

Irina Nikitina, the golden athlete of the Russian cycling team, will be called upon to build on the good results achieved at the last World Championships in Paris, France, in 2018. Nikitina wants to leave definitively behind the difficult time she passed through the year before.

“The period when I was out of competitions due to my health conditions, was the hardest. Due to my surgery I could not participate to the 2017 World Championships.  I wanted to stop training,” said Nikitina.  “In Paris, last year, however I won one silver [road race] and one bronze medal [time trial]. My main goal is to become world champion and I hope that my best achievements will still be ahead”.

The national women’s cycling team, currently composed of Nikitina, Liubov Tarasova and Praskovia Iakovleva, has performed remarkably in the last two years.

A bronze and a gold in Assen, The Netherlands in 2017 and a silver and a bronze in Paris last year – Coach Adanichkin has created a solid team where friendship and encouragement are the bedrock for individual and collective achievements. A “well-oiled machine”, as Adanichkin dubbed it, aiming for success joint effort and support.

In this regard Brisbane 2019 will not only be a testing ground and a chance to win some medals, but the opportunity to experience a brand new country.

Of the 2019 Global Games Nikitina said: “My goal for this competition is victory but also meeting new friends.  Doing sport gives me the possibility to have communication, to look at the world around me and at cycling environment. For me to be part of this event is also an opportunity to cheer up other people”.

Nikitina began her competitive career in her home city, Kostroma, in the Upper Volga district. At the time cycling was something between passion and daily routine, while doing short track speed skating as well.

The competition in Brisbane will be tough but the Russian cyclist, who balances training with study, will not back out of her commitment to excel:

“In Russia I have the best results among women and I try to achieve the results of the men’s team. I want to show everybody that I am able to perform at a good level. The hardest part of the competition is to overcome myself, but the other side of the coin is standing on the podium as a result of my commitment”.

The 2019 World Intellectual Impairment Sport Global Games are expected to attract around 1,000 athletes from 80 countries. The event, which takes place every four years, will feature 11 sports including the road cycling World Championships for men, women and teams.