Verônica Hipólito got her track spikes as a fourth-generation hand-me-down. That’s right, three people had worn them down before her. There were some missing spikes on the outsole, beat-down mesh, it was an old model and people judged her for it. And what did she do with those spikes? History! She won the world track and field championship and didn’t stop there. Check out Verônica’s interview to find out everything she did with her Nike Zoom Jana Star II.
“I am Verônica Hipólito, I’m 22 years old, I’m a sprinter and paralympic athlete. I’ve had three surgeries on my head, one in the large intestine. I’ve had a stroke and so on. But this is not the way I like to be remembered, I like that people look at my achievements: I’m a 200m world champion, 100m runner-up, I am three time champion at the Parapan American Games; I am the biggest track and field medalist and the youngest one too, I won a silver and a bronze medal in the 100m and 400m in the 2016 Paralympic Games, and since 2013 I am among the three fastest girls in the world.”
Tell us, when and how did you started to practice track and field?
verônicaI’ve always played sports, not to win medals, money or fame. I always did it because my parents believe that sports are a strong way of socialization and education. Both of them are History teachers and they also have been athletes their whole life, no medals, but they practiced for fun and health. I’ve done a bit of everything – judo, taekwondo, karate, olympic gymnastics, swimming, polo, table tennis, field tennis, soccer, futsal, volleyball and so on – in almost all of them, I was horrible, but in the end, I was having fun and that’s what matters to me (laughs).
I found myself in judo when I was my 11 years old, but at 12 to 13 years old, I had an urgent surgery on my head, to remove a tumor, which is called Pituitary Adenoma. Mine was already too big, by the time they discovered it I could have gone blind or died – and as you can see, none of this happened to me (laughs). After the operation, I was at the post-surgery room and asked the doctor if there was time for me to compete at the Brazilian judo (tournament). He said: “No, Verôniva, you cannot go to the Brazilian (tournament)”. I thought it made sense, I just had an operation. So I asked: “When would I be able to train again?” And he: “Verônica, you won’t be able to go back to judo or any other sport of impact”. That meant, any sport that balls could hit me, or sports that people could push me or that had any physical contact.
At the time I was very upset because I had found myself in judo. I stayed at home for a long time and then one day, my father said that he signed me up for a track and field festival at the Aramaçan club, at 8 am on a Sunday. And, of course that I, who love to sleep, promptly said no, I wasn’t in the mood, I always thought that track and field was very boring; he didn’t say anything. On the day of the competition, my parents woke me up and took me there. When I got there and ran, I really liked it, I got beat up by the girls, but I loved it. And then I left there telling my parents that I was going to be the fastest girl in town.
But after that, I had a stroke that paralyzed the entire right side of my body, including my ability to speak – in fact, I think that is why I talk a lot (laughs). Many people said: “She is in bed, she can’t even walk, it will be impossible to run again”. But I had the most important thing: my parents,who believed in me, and I believed in me. My mom always said that I shouldn’t be mediocre, that I had to give my best even if it was painful sometimes; my father always said, especially when I left the hospital, that everyone was going to try to limit me but that I was going to decide what was our was not possible for me. It’s my life, my actions. And that’s when I decided that I was really going to be the fastest girl in town.
I started in track and field as a rehabilitation, I atarted out just walking, then I started to increase the pace, started to jog, then I started to run and then I was running faster. I wasn’t the fastest girl in town, I didn’t win the school games at first, but I won the adult world championship with 17 years old as a rookie.
That’s my story in the beginning of track and field. After that, I won other things, I am among the three fastest girls in the world in the 100m, 200m and 400m, and I am one of the five greatest in the world in the long jump. I had to have another surgery, I had to take very strong drugs to avoid the head tumor from 2013 to 2017. In 2015 on the eve of the Parapan-American games and the World championship, I discovered that there were more than 200 tumors in my large intestine, but even so I competed two days before removing 90% of my large intestine – I can eat just about anything, ok? You can invite me (laughs). I had to have surgery in 2017 to remove the head tumor, it was unsuccessful, I had to repeat the surgery in 2018, I lost almost everything of male, female hormone, GH, I had bronchopneumonia, thrombosis, I had several things that took me to the hospital , but the most important of all is that I always came back to run and, today, I am running.
“I wasn’t the fastest girl in town, I didn’t win the school games at first, but I won the adult world championship with 17 years old as a rookie.”
You joined the Brazilian team a few months before the 2013 World Championships in Lyon, France. What was the feeling of joining the team and being able to represent Brazil?
verônicaI always thought that joining the national team was so far away from me, but I always dreamed of it, of running with the national team, with the uniform. I was so happy when I joined that I spread my gear on the bed – everyone was already super experienced, they already knew everything, they took the bag with the team stuff and walked away – but I took mine, I threw everything on the bed and I took a bunch of pictures. One of the first pictures that I posted on Instagram, was a picture of the national team gear and uniform, even today I have a lot of love for them (laughs).
When I had a stroke in 2011, I stayed out for a long time, at the end of 2012 I started doing my track and field rehabilitation, I stopped in late 2012 because Aramaçan ended the track and field team. In 2013, before I turned 16, I started at SESI training Olympic and my coach at the time, who was training Olympic and Paralympic, asked me why I couldn’t use my arm so much and why I limped so much. The first thing I wanted to say was I’m sorry, because I didn’t know it was an aftereffect, I didn’t know what it could be, but he said: “I think that, all this time, you were competing Olympic when you are Paralympic”. And that made me much stronger.
In March I made my qualification for the Paralympic and got in. First I ran the regional, many people thought that was impossible for me to run the regional, but I ran and I won in the 100m, 200m and long jump. Then I went to the Nationalts, which many people thought was impossible for me to get the numbers for the World Championships, and I was first in the 100m, 200m and long jump and even got the numbers for the adult World Championships. My third official competition was the Open, they thought it was impossible for me to win because there was several athletes from other countries, but I strengthened my numbers on 100m, 200m and the long jump and even beat the 100m world record. So my fourth official competition was the World Championships. Between the Open and the World’s, the record was broken five times, so the girls were very strong, but they didn’t expect that I was strong too. When I was running at the World championship, it was really crazy because when I looked, I was ahead and when I looked again, I won the World Championships.
And it was with this Nike Zoom Jana Star II shoe that you won theWorld Championship! What’s your story with it? Why is it so important to you?
verônicaFirst of all, I think it’s very important to say that I always wanted to have a Nike shoe. My parents always gave the best for me and for my brother, but at the time I knew we didn’t have the condition to buy a Nike. When we went to buy shoes at Centauro, I analyzed all the shoes and prices to see what was the best value for money, I chose the one that would last the longest because I had to wear it on the track, to walk and also to school. And my dream was to have a Nike, but we couldn’t get one because it was too expensive.
When I started in track and field, everyone was running in spikes and I didn’t have not a single God damn one. And these spikes are very expensive, they cost around R$300 to R$400, and they said that I wouldn’t last 1 year with a spike. One day, my Coach from Aramaçan, Valdemar, said that I needed spikes and that he found a girl selling hers. He said: “It’s not ideal, but if you pay in cash it’s R$ 130”. I talked to my dad and my mom if they could help me to pay, I saved a lot, but they decided they were going to give it to me.
“A good friend of mine, Yohansson, saw that I was scared and he said: ‘You sprinted a bunch of times in practice, you ran several times, but for the competition you have to run only once, go out there and do it, this is easier than any practice’.”
Three people wore this spike before me, it was my first Nike shoe and my first pair of running spikes. I got it at the end of 2010, before my stroke, then I used it in 2012, in 2013, and when the World Championship arrived, she was a little bit damaged (laughs). It was very worn out, some spikes didn’t come out, others were stuck in, there were some missing. In addition, she is not a speed spike, she is medium-deep and deep – which is above 800m. Everything was set to go wrong.
In the World Championship, before the race, all the girls were wearing new spikes, the new releases, and I was there, staring at mine, made of mesh (laughs). A good friend of mine, Yohansson, saw that I was scared and he said: “You sprinted a bunch of times in practice, you ran several times, but for the competition you have to run only once, go out there and do it, this is easier than any practice”. He noticed me looking at my spike and said: “This one has a history, there’s don’t”. Then I thought: “Let’s do this!” (laughs). I knew that my chances of losing were very big, but my spikes had histories, and it was them, that got me there.
“I know them and they know me, on any track, rubber, coal, dirt, I knew what it was like, I knew how far they could take me and how they were already taking me. And it was these spikes, my first one, that, not only led me to the title but also made Nike come sponsor me. In what dreams did I imagine Nike would come to me wanting to sign me?!”
You talk a lot about how it felt to have an inferior spike to that of the other girls. Did you feel any prejudice against you for that?
verônicaSeveral times. Some people laughed, stared and think less of me, like: “You won’t be able to go, what are you doing here”. But really, aside from the World championship, when I was feeling more insecure, I never really cared because these are my spikes, it was my first Nike shoe and I still have them today, I love these little girls (laughs). I know them and they know me, on any track, rubber, coal, dirt, I knew what it was like, I knew how far they could take me and how they were already taking me. And it was these spikes, my first one, that, not only led me to the title but also made Nike come sponsor me. In what dreams did I imagine Nike would come to me wanting to sign me?!
Honestly? It’s not the best that will take you further, but all the affection, the story and you knowing what you are wearing, and go. Just go.
Was it hard for you to use other spikes after this one?
verônicaA funny thing is that they gave me five running spikes, a bunch of sneakers – my eyes sparkled – but I still wanted to wear this one. I remember that one of the journalists who worked at CPP looked at me and said: “It’s time for you to change that piece of cloth, right”. And I said: “No, I don’t want to” (laughs). Until one day, the people from Nike came to me and said: “You have a lot of spikes, you can’t keep this one forever, you need to evolve, you don’t have to abandon it, but you need to evolve.” And with a lot of pain in my heart, I retired mine and put on another spike.
Today I’m more used to it, I bring three different spikes for practice, I put one for sprinting, one for competition, the other I use just to soften them up in case of emergency. Once I was very sad, I was pushing myself too much on the track, more than I push myself today. Then the trainer came to me and asked me to bring my first spikes – he truly knew my story with them. He made me put on my first spikes and run. I had so much fun. And as I ran, I saw the differences and I was comparing them with the newer ones and the more technological ones and I thought: “Damn, at that time I ran on the coal. And damn, I even had to put coal on the track.” And I felt them wobble, I had used them so much that they were no longer able to grip on the floor, I was laughing, having fun and remembering. And at the end of practice, he said to me: “This is how you have to be in practice, this is what you have to do – you have to have fun.”
I always say: Do I need money to pay my bills? Yes. Am I competitive? Yes, and a lot. I’m not here training six days a week – actually, seven days a week, right? Because you eat as an athlete, sleep as an athlete, you have to prioritize the practice, your sport and do things you don’t like. But the main part of why I am here is to have fun and laugh, every practice I leave knowing I left it all out there. When I lost a very dear friend, I ran. When my grandma got sick, I ran. When I found out I had to have surgery, I ran. And I would come back feeling great.
“But the main part of why I am here is to have fun and laugh, every practice I leave knowing I left it all out there. When I lost a very dear friend, I ran. When my grandma got sick, I ran. When I found out I had to have surgery, I ran. And I would come back feeling great.”
“Last year I wasn’t able to walk without using my walker or without propping myself against the wall. Today I ran with the strongest battery for boys and girls. What stops me from going to Pan, World’s, Tokyo and to win? Nothing.”
After your last surgery you stopped for a while, but now you’re back at it. What are your next steps?
verônicaI was out for two and a half years, I had several difficulties, but one thing that we believe here, is that you take one step at a time, you fix one thing and fix another. Today you run 10m, but tomorrow you run 10.1m and the day after tomorrow you run 10.2m. The important thing is one step at a time. Sometimes you have to step back a little, sometimes you go too far, but it is slowly that you get there.
I know how difficult what I’m going to say is: a lot of people say it is impossible, but I don’t believe in these impossible things. Impossible and difficult are two very different things. Everything is difficult but nothing is impossible. I want to get the numbers for the Pan, I want to get the numbers for this year’s World championship, I want to go to the Pan and the World championship, I want to get medals and I will do everything to be a champion, to win the World Championship, to win the Parapan-American, to get more medals than last time, to improve my mark compared to last time. And next year there’s Tokyo with Olympic and Paralympic games, and I’m going to Tokyo! I train for this, I will go to Pan, I will go to the World championship, I will go to Tokyo, even though almost everyone doesn’t believe it, I do. And I know that there are people who believe with me – my coaches are here with me, my parents are always with me, my boyfriend calls me every day picking on me at the gym. I will get there.
Last year I wasn’t able to walk without using my walker or without propping myself against the wall. Today I ran with the strongest battery for boys and girls. What stops me from going to Pan, World’s, Tokyo and to win? Nothing.
Nike Zoom Jana Star II
Owner: Verônica Hipólito
Photos by: Vitória Leona