Gerard Descarrega and Rodrigo Conde

The Goal: Paris - Ep. 5

08/24/2023 · By Redacción TAB
Descarrega and Conde, athletes of the TAB Team

Both Gerard Descarrega and Rodrigo Conde are among the elite of their respective sports: para-athletics and rowing. But neither of them competes alone, this athlete runs alongside his sighted guide and this rower, alongside his teammate. One of the keys to their success is the perfect teamwork between them, the result of good vibes and generous efforts. In Paris, both aspire to a medal and exude plenty of confidence.

When he was just four years old, Gerard Descarrega (Reus, 1994) was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease affecting his vision. His field of vision slowly decreased until it disappeared, coinciding with his coming of age. “At the beginning it was something negative because nobody wants to go blind —Gerard admits—, but it made me want to prove to myself that blindness isn’t a limitation. I believe it’s brought me many more good things than bad.” These are the self-possessed words of this paralympic athlete who won gold in Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 in the 400-metre T11 category. “I love sports, especially outdoors, and I tried lots of them out —explains Gerard—, but I ended up choosing athletics because of my retinitis pigmentosa. In the end, it was the easiest for me.”

By his side, hanging on his every word and with admiration in his eyes, is Rodrigo Conde (Moaña, 1997), silver in double sculls at the 2022 World Rowing Championships. This Galician rower’s path to greatness also hasn’t been a walk in the park, and he assures us he owes his parents everything. “My mother and father have supported me since the very beginning —Rodrigo tells us—. We’re a humble family and they had to work really hard so that I could train. The gamble they took on me has paid off, but it could have easily gone the other way, and this is why I’ll always be grateful to them.” Why rowing? “At the beginning I used to split my time between rowing and tennis —reminisces Rodrigo—, but I chose rowing because of the camaraderie there is within the group, feeling part of the crew, and being bitten by the competitive bug when your performance improves, and you start to win. It ends up turning into a way of life.”

Rodrigo and Gerard, who both confess to being ultracompetitive, know how important it is to feel supported by those closest to you, both personally and at a sporting level. Gerard runs alongside his guide (Guillermo Rojo or José María Marvizón), while Rodrigo shares his boat with Aleix García. “I’ve always had a good relationship with my guides and we’ve been friends as well as athletes —Gerard confesses—. You need to also connect outside of the sport, to have that feeling.” A bond Rodrigo also feels with Aleix: “We’re two people who are tough on ourselves and are also demanding of each other. This is the best time of my life and not just because of the results we’re achieving, but also how we’re achieving them, as a great team.”

“At the beginning it was something negative, because nobody wants to go blind, but it made me want to prove to myself that blindness isn’t a limitation” — Descarrega

During the race, Gerard is connected to his sighted guide through a short rope they both hold in their hand. “It’s funny because, during the race, I don’t talk to my guide at all. A soft touch or twist of the wrist is enough to tell me when we’re coming to or leaving the bend. When there’s ten metres until the finish line, he makes a grunting sound and when we’re going to cross the finish line he simply says “ya” [now] so that I puff my chest out.” Mutual understanding is essential, also for Rodrigo and Aleix. “Rowing is a very tough sport, and we have to trust each other completely during difficult moments. We bond over the intense suffering we share and that creates really strong relationships. When you start to have doubts, you think about your teammate and tell yourself: he’s not going to leave me stranded and I can’t do that to him either. Aleix isn’t just my teammate, he’s like a brother.”

Their support network is essential for elite athletes, to the point of being inspiring, as Gerard himself admits. “I’m inspired by the people who are part of my life, who help me stay focused, keep my feet firmly on the ground and concentrate on what truly matters in life: being happy. This, and treating the people who help you daily well is the main thing.” That support system is so important to Rodrigo that he remembers them every time he wins a medal. “When we step on the podium to collect a medal, we do it for everyone who’s with us. We’re the visible side, but behind a medal is the work and support of many people.”

Dreams to come true
Despite having two paralympic gold medals, Gerard doesn’t settle and dreams of climbing to the top of the podium in Paris. “I started out really young, when I was 18, and these will be my fourth Games. I’m at a moment of full personal and sporting potential, and I’m really motivated. I’m in better shape than ever and I really want to fight for that medal.” For Rodrigo, who gave up his spot in Tokyo, these will be his first Games, but his ambition is high. “I feel buzzed about Paris. Both Aleix and I want to conquer the world, we’re similar in this and in the self-confidence, we bring to competitions. If we continue in this direction, training like we do and enjoying ourselves like we do, which is the most important thing for me, we’ll be fighting for medals.”

“If we continue in this direction, training like we do and enjoying ourselves like we do, which is the most important thing for me, we’ll be fighting for medals” — Conde

Gerard’s dreams go beyond Paris, even beyond athletics. “My dream is to beat the world record in 400 metres and also climb an eight-thousander (a mountain of more than 8,000 metres). Mountaineering has been a passion of mine since I was little. I feel genuinely happy in the mountains, and it brings up lots of feelings.” Rodrigo also shares this passion for adventure. I’m antsy and love adventure sports. I normally prefer the sea, but I also love being in the mountains. Doing climbing and via ferrata. I’ve been told off for climbing, but I love it and really enjoy myself.”

Neither Gerard nor Rodrigo would be where they are today without talent, but it’s not the only thing that has led them to the top. “You may be born with a particular talent, with slightly better skills than others, but if you don’t work hard, it all comes to nothing,” says Rodrigo. Gerard backs him up: “Talent is being born with an above-average skill and knowing how to make the most of it.” And Rodrigo rounds things off by quoting one of the most talented Spanish sportsmen: “I don’t think there’s anyone who works harder than Rafa Nadal, for example. Without a doubt, talent exists and it’s essential to be among that 1% of elite athletes, but hard work is the distinguishing factor.”