Fortunately, nowadays no one is surprised that a girl plays football. It might seem an odd thing to do in a mixed-sex team, but those familiar with this story will understand this footballer's loyalty and commitment.
She arrived by chance at Marbella FC. Her brother trained in the academy and she wanted to follow in his footsteps, despite her parents not taking football into account as an alternative extracurricular activity. Not because they saw football as a boys' sport, but because they were worried that hard, physical contact (she wears an IV port in her chest) would mean hours spent in hospital treatment rooms.
Paola Martín Lahoz is twelve years old. She's happy, fun and enthusiastic with an enviable spirit of self-improvement and a tough character, which allows her to reach goals that no one around her could imagine her achieving when she was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Since arriving in this world, her family have maintained the hope that she would be able to lead a normal life in the face of this incurable and little known disorder.
A little over a month ago, Paola's dream came true. In an under-13s, fourth division game between Marbella FC and Atlético Marbellí, the time for her debut arrived. She didn't play earlier because neither she, her coach nor her team, wanted Paola to make a testimonial appearance and receive an easy applause.
She needed to take to the pitch when she was ready to take part in an official, eleven-a-side match, just like everyone else.
"I can't believe it. I could go in strongly, I didn't get that tired and I could give [my] everything. I thought it would be impossible because before when I exercised, I hyperventilated, I coughed a lot, I felt my heart racing," Paola said on social media, where she shares her fight against the disorder as a way to help others in a similar situation.
Everyone in Marbella knows and admires her for her persistence. She tried out in a girls' team, but she lasted one afternoon. She felt like her place was with her usual teammates who treated her as just another player and helped her adapt in every way possible. She couldn't leave her friends, like Rodri, Diego Costa, Iker, or her coaches Rafa Ucles and Pedro Iborra, who knew that the biggest victory was integration, training and the right that all kids should have to be able do what they like the most, even if some develop more skills than others.
"I adore Paola for her immense will to live, for her love of football. She's juggling a lot of inconveniences to achieve her dream, to be able to play officially. The team is very happy with her, she makes herself loved through her efforts. She keeps improving and we're already thinking about the next game she can play in," said her coach Rafa Ucles to SUR.
In the stands, Paola's parents, Juan and Reyes, were stunned. "Paola's fortitude has allowed us to move forward. She's been on new medication for over a month and no one thought that three pills could work so much magic. We're aware that without this medication it wouldn't have been possible. She knows that her teammates believe in her and she gives that belief back to them," they said.
Wearing a white shirt with the number 17 on her back - in honour of her idol Lucas Vázquez - Paola, the same girl who gets top marks in school and continues to have hunger for football, can be seen training every Monday and Wednesday in the Luis Teruel Aguilar football pitch, proving that no one else has more will to live than her.