Two shades of blue form the fine line of the horizon between the sea and the sky. Sarah Almagro, who is just 21 years old, surfs the waves that rise above the line and lift her almost high enough to touch the clouds above, as she did at the ISA World Para-Surfing Championship at Pismo Beach in California. The colour of her silver medal shimmers as she picks it up with her prosthesis to show it to the camera with a huge smile on her face: “I wanted to win, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t, but it doesn’t matter. To me, this silver still feels like gold,” she says.
Without losing her smile, she tells the story of her life, how at the age of 18 she contracted meningitis and her hands and feet had to be amputated, but she never lost the desire to continue the body surfing which she had been practising in Marbella since she was five.
“My current trainer heard that I used to go surfing from his beach. When he learned all about my illness and what happened, he told me he would get me back into the water again,” she says.
Her coach is a great boost for Sarah, in the most literal sense of the world, because he is the one with whom she takes her first steps into the sea from the shore: “I don’t have enough mobility or strength because I don’t have the palms of my hands to push myself alone. I always need help to get into the water and for everything once I’m in the water,” she explains.
With the help of her trainer and her own determination, she went from the beaches of Malaga to those of California where, apart from the competition itself, she mixed with surfers of different abilities, where someone who is blind helps an amputee to put on their prosthesis, on a beach which has been perfectly adapted to their needs and where everything is like the American surfing films: “The cars were enormous and there were elderly people with white beards riding Harley Davidsons. I loved it. It was the first time I had been to the United States,” she says.
Something else she will always remember was being selected to represent Spain, chosen to read out the athletes’ oath and take part in the opening parade at her first World Championship. ”It was such an honour for me. We were a bit naughty in the parade, too. There was meant to be a girl pushing my wheelchair, but in the end I walked and pushed the chair in front of me,” she says.
Even with so many highlights, one of her favourite moments was when she found herself surfing with seals: “On one occasion when my trainer was in the water with me, as he was coming to collect me, I started surfing on my own and suddenly I lifted my head up and saw a seal. I screamed with excitement. I was freaking out with joy,” she says.
The flight home was also a performance. As Sarah was arriving at Madrid, her suitcases with all her belongings, including the medal, had ended up in Helsinki, Finland. “We had two connections between Los Angeles and Madrid and we missed one of them. My case containing the medal and the laptop I had used to do my university work while I was in Los Angeles went astray. I had to do all the work again because it was very close to the deadline,” she says, between laughter and relief at finally being reunited with her case and having her possessions at home.
Sarah is studying law at Malaga university. At first she wanted to be a tax inspector but now she is trying to change direction and do something related to sport, to combine her two vocations. As well as having made a name for herself as the world runner-up in adapted surfing, she has a strong presence on social media, although she doesn’t like the term ‘influencer’. “I don’t know, I think that is seen as someone who posts photos and that’s it. I try to be visible, to transmit a normality in what may not be normal. I try to do it with humour, because I think that gets the best response,” she says.
The sparkle in her eyes, like the sun shining on the waves, hints that the road to a silver medal in a world championship, studying law and being immersed in her projects has had its highlights, but meningitis still brings shadows in its wake. “I had a really bad time and Ihave been very, very afraid. I used to think I would be useless for the rest of my life,” she says.
Today, with her silver medal in her hand, her perspective is different and she speaks of the future, of what she is going to do and what she hopes she will be able to do: “I have been thinking for a while about writing a book, but you need to have the time and want to relive the past, and when you have experienced so much fear that isn’t an easy thing to do,” she says.
In any case, whether she ends up writing the story of her life or not, she knows that her experience needs to be told so others have an example which may help them. “I’d like to start holding conferences to transmit the message that everyone can get over any situation, you don’t have to be Sarah or anybody special to overcome adversity. Everyone is capable of doing it,” she says.