Paralympian from the beginning - Josiane Lima
Brazilian para rower, Josiane Lima can make claim to a feat only a handful of others can – she has competed at every Paralympic Games since rowing was introduced to the programme in 2008. Heading towards the delayed Tokyo 2020, Lima is still rowing.
Lima’s story is a roller coaster, but her determination and love of the sport has carried her through.
“My first Paralympic experience, in Beijing 2008, was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Lima recalls. The Brazilian Paralympic rowing team sent a complete fleet of boats, entered in all four Paralympic categories.
“We had a very close team, we really enjoyed training together in different boats,” Lima says. But the lead-up to the Games for Lima turned out to be was tenuous. Lima contracted a sinus infection just two weeks before they were scheduled to compete.
“On the day of the final, I was very stressed. The trip, the weather, the air, with difficulty sleeping and training, all on top of the infection.”
Lima and then-partner Elton Santana took the early lead in the mixed double sculls – para-rowing races were 1000m in 2008. Lima recalls dominating the race until the 750m mark. With just 250m to go, she ran out of air.
“We crossed the finish line thanks to the effort of Elton and my ability to maintain the coordination of the boat, even though I was seeing stars flashing and my vision blurred in the last 250m,” she says.
The two managed to maintain their position enough to grasp a bronze medal. And that moment will stay with Lima forever, fostering her continued love for the sport of rowing.
Lima says one of the reasons she has been able to stay in the sport for so many years is the Bolsa Atleta Programme. This programme was established in 2005 by the Brazilian government as part of an extensive effort to support sport and redistribute income. Lima says it was the catalyst for Brazil being awarded the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. For her, it provided basic funding for food, transportation and housing.
But Lima acknowledges the challenges Brazil has faced since the political crisis in 2015. “It was a sadness to see the situation of the country during the Paralympic Games, which is reflected in all levels of society and in sport as well,” Lima says.
For her, the 2016 Paralympic Games in her home country was bitter sweet. She says it was a ‘historic moment’ to compete in her own country, but the time represents a switch in political policy that has had significant effects on high performance athletes.
Lima’s struggles have also occurred within the boat. She has had six different partners over the course of her career and the change has not always been easy.
“It was a very enriching experience from a personal point of view, but from the point of view of the high performance, the constant change in the boat was caused sometimes by the competition and performance among the athletes, but other times the change occurred due to administrative decision,” Lima explains.
Lima remains relentlessly positive and can see the upside of constant change. “I believe that I have become a good rowing instructor because with each change of partner, basic technical training began again,” she says. “Luckily, since 2014 I have had greater stability, competing with Michel Pessanha.”
Together with Pessanha, Lima qualified for her fourth Paralympic Games at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria. As one of the most experienced para rowers in the world, Lima has insights into the continued development of the sport.
“In the last few years I have observed a greater number of women athletes, mainly from countries in humanitarian crisis in which the fight for the respect for women's rights and human rights is a daily achievement. Having seen these athletes competing in rowing is also a hope and very beautiful to see this diversity in the rowing world.”
Lima continues her efforts to train in her home town Florianópolis, and keeps her eyes on Paralympic Games number four.