It seems that not even coming second in the world championships, a decade competing with the international elite and three Winter Olympics by the age of 26 are enough for fans to stop Regino Hernández in the street and ask for a photo. Many people would love that to happen to them and would boast, but Regino doesn't care. He only likes to attract attention when he is on his snowboard.
This 'rider', who was born in Ceuta but has lived in Mijas Costa since he was one year old,has been selected to take part in the Winter Olympics in Pyongyang (South Korea) in February. This will make him one of the athletes from Malaga province who has participated the most in this major sporting event, behind only swimmer María Peláez (who has competed five times) and yachtsman Félix Gancedo (four). Regino is also the youngest man ever to achieve this historic triple record.
He remembers his first Olympic event as if it were yesterday (it was in Vancouver, in 2010). He was 17 years old and the youngest member of the Spanish team. “I didn't know what was happening. I made my debut in the World Cup the previous year, and all of a sudden I was going to the Olympics. I hadn't been fighting to get there,” he recalls.
Now, nearly eight years later, he will be the second most senior (in terms of Games experience) member of the Spanish team in South Korea and is 11th in the world ranking. It is a small team of just eight competitors, but they stand a good chance of winning a medal, especially Regino Hernández. “These Games haven't taken me by surprise. We are prepared and being realists, we know we are good enough to win a medal,” he says.
Travelling with him will be his companions in the snowboard team, Laro Herrero and Lucas Eguíbar. A few days ago Regino shared first place with Eguíbar at the World Cup in Montafon (Austria), and they both shared the same trainer, Israel Planas.
“Israel died just after the World Championships. He had a stroke. He was only 41. He is one of the people I plan to dedicate my medal to,” says Regino. Unfortunately, this was not the only loss he has suffered in a short time. The death of one of his childhood friends, Ángel Moreno, has changed his life.
“We became friends in Fuengirola when we were five years old... he died two years ago now, in the Sierra Nevada, snowboarding, and apart from my parents and my family circle, he was the person who gave me the most support,” he says.
“Our parents were friends, we used to play handball together when we were little, we went to the same school... I was with him the day before, here in Fuengirola, and then he went to Granada. When it happened, they rang me to tell me they couldn't find him and we went there to see what was going on,” he says.
The bad news was confirmed shortly after that phone call, and the details began to appear in the media. The body of his friend, who was 24 at the time, was found around seven hours after he accidentally ran off the piste.
“Nobody saw him, nobody realised what had happened, because he was the last one in the group and it wasn't until they reached the bottom that everyone started to wonder where he was,” he says. It is something which will mark him forever. “I've changed my way of looking at life. Seeing the courage a family can have after losing a son, how they fight to carry on ... it makes you think 'Why should I worry about stupid things every day?' We get depressed over nothing, while far worse things are happening to other people.”
A risky sport
Time passes for everyone and Regino has had to learn to overcome difficulties and move onward in a sport in which he knows that the slightest mistake could have serious consequences.
“I've broken my knee twice, both shoulders... this is a risky sport and it is all part of it. We know that we will be injured at some time,” he says, with the calm which comes from experience. Now he has also injured his wrist, during a training session for the World Cup in Italy, although it has not stopped him competing and completing his busy schedule.
“We never stop. We're always travelling. We have just done trials in France, Austria and Italy, and this month we will be in Turkey and Russia, and then it is the Olympics in February,” he explains. He has been competing with the international elite in this sport for the past ten years.
Ever since he stopped playing handball, which was his first passion, and experienced the snow when he was four years old, he decided that snowboarding was what he wanted to do. He has numerous stories to tell about how he has come this far, although it is still difficult to make a living from his sport.
“It's difficult. We are given grants, but those depend on results. Also, this year the grant depends exclusively on the Games. If you have a bad day, you can lose your grant. There is everything to play for,” he explains. So there is no lack of motive for Regino Hernández to try to win an Olympic medal. He has been trying to do so for several long years, and has shed blood, sweat and tears. If he wins this time he knows he will not be alone. Two of his closest friends will be cheering him from above.