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The Venezuelan who won Special Olympics Winter gold without having ever seen snow

Venezuelan snowshoer

Marco Catini/CC

Zelda Caldwell - published on 04/03/17

Leonardo Acosto trained with makeshift snowshoes on the beach.

When 25-year-old Leonardo Acosto arrived in Austria for the Special Olympic Winter Games this March, he had never experienced sub-zero temperatures or even seen snow. Growing up in Mara, Venezuela, Acosto was used to high temperatures that average over 90 degrees, all year round.That didn’t stop him from winning the gold in the 100 meters in snowshoeing, and taking home a silver and bronze in the 4×100 and 200 meters.

A BBC Mundo report chronicles his amazing victory – in the competition in Austria and in overcoming great obstacles throughout his life. Diagnosed with intellectual disabilities caused by a stroke that he suffered shortly after birth, Acosto didn’t learn to walk until he was three years old. Nevertheless, he always loved competing in sports, according to BBC Mundo.

As a child, he was a passionate soccer fan, and organized street games in the patio of his house. He later began training for a Special Olympics competitions, and was invited to competitions across Venezuela

When he was selected to enter the snowshoeing competition at the Winter Games, he jumped at the chance despite never having seen snow.

His disciplined training gave him an edge on the competition. Acosto simulated walking through the snow by strapping on handmade wooden training snowshoes made with cloth and velcro, BBC Mundo reported.

For 7 months he would rise at dawn to train and then go out to the beach again in the afternoon, when the high winds at that time of the day most resembled the conditions he would face in Europe. Sand bags weighed down his snowshoes, so his feet would feel comparably lighter on race day.

When Acosto returned to Venezuela with his medals he was met with a hero’s welcome, and celebrated with his family and friends. He’ll enjoy the moment, and take time to rest before his next challenge: the 2019 Special Olympic games in Dubai.

“That is my dream,” Acosto told BBC Mundo.

Read the entire story here.

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