5 September 2017

Francesca Porcellato - Paralympian

Life of sporting excellence born of horrific accident

Francesca Porcellato has competed at seven summer and three winter Paralympic Games
Francesca Porcellato has competed at seven
summer and three winter Paralympic Games 
Francesca Porcellato, one of Italy’s most enduring Paralympians, was born on this day in 1970 in Castelfranco Veneto.

She has competed in seven summer Paralympics as an athlete and cyclist and three winter Paralympics in cross-country skiing, winning a total of 14 medals, including three golds.

At the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada, she was flag-bearer for the Italian team.

She is also a prolific wheelchair marathon competitor, sharing with America’s Tatyana McFadden the distinction of having won the London Marathon wheelchair event four times.

Even as she reaches the age of 47, Francesca is still at the top of her sport. Only last weekend in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, she won gold in the H3 event at the Paracycling road world championships.

The H3 category – for paraplegic, tetraplegic or amputees unable to ride a standard bicycle – involves competitors riding in a lying position, using their arms to turn the wheels.

Francesca in her racing wheelchair
Francesca in her racing wheelchair
Francesca was the defending champion in the H3 after winning gold at the 2015 championships in Nottwil in Switzerland, where she also took gold in the time trial.

Francesca has been disabled since the age of just 18 months, having been run over by a truck in the driveway of her house.

She suffered multiple broken bones – in her words ‘everything except my head and arms’ – but miraculously no internal injuries. Yet the damage to her spinal cord meant she would never walk again.

Rehabilitation was a long process. It took many years for her to walk with a frame and she was six years old before she was given a wheelchair.  Once she was able to propel herself with her arms, however, she soon became keen to go faster and dreamed of becoming an athlete.

Although competition for disabled athletes was not nearly as well established as it is today when Francesca developed her ambition to race, there had been organised events since 1948 and the Paralympics, which had been originally conceived for war veterans, was officially launched in Rome in 1960.

They have been staged every four years since 1960, and since 1988 in Seoul, South Korea have been held in conjunction with the Olympic Games themselves, using the same facilities and following on immediately afterwards.

Francesca has excelled on skis too
Francesca has excelled on skis too
It was in Seoul that Francesca, just turned 18, made her Paralympic debut as a wheelchair athlete.

Her success was immediate, with gold medals in both the individual 100m and 4 x 100m relay.  Noting her red hair, The Italian media nicknamed her La Rossa Volantethe Flying Redhead.

Winning three silver medals for good measure, in the 200m, 4 x 200m and 4 x 400m, she was among the medals again in Barcelona again four years later, taking bronze in the 400m on her 22nd birthday.

She competed in the summer Paralympics until 2008, also picking up medals in 2000 in Sydney and 2004 in Athens.

At the same time, she was developing as a marathon wheelchair runner, in which she also enjoyed spectacular success, winning in London four times in a row from 2003 to 2006 and also taking the top prize in New York, Boston and Paris.

She competed in the winter Games for the first time in 2006, when it was hosted in Turin, as a cross-country skier.

Her big moment in the winter games came in 2010 in Vancouver, when she won the 1km sprint, a victory made even more special for falling on March 21 – the anniversary of her accident – which she regards as her second ‘birthday’.

Francesca says that she looks upon the date as a special day now because “it was the moment I became stronger – strong enough to achieve a beautiful life and realise my dreams.”

She is married to her coach, Dino Farinazzo, and lives now in Valeggio sul Mincio, a town in the province of Verona not far from Lake Garda.

The western gate of Castelfranco Veneto
The western gate of Castelfranco Veneto
Travel tip:

Castelfranco Veneto, a small town midway between Treviso and Vicenza in the Veneto region, is notable for its fortified old city, which lies at the centre of the town surrounded by high walls and a moat. Inside are a number of streets and the old city’s Duomo, which contains an altar piece by the town’s most famous son, the High Renaissance artist Giorgione, thought to have been painted between 1503 and 1504. Next to the Duomo is the Casa Giorgione, thought to have been the artist’s home, which is now a museum.

Valeggio's trademark dish tortellini in brodo
Valeggio's trademark dish tortellini in brodo
Travel tip:

Valeggio sul Mincio, situated on the Mincio river about 10km (6 miles) from Lake Garda, is an attractive town in the western part of the Veneto towards the border with Lombardy. Interesting sights included the 650-metre long Visconti Bridge, which is actually a fortified dam built in 1393, the Castello Scagliero and the Villa Sigurtà, which is surrounded by a vast area of parklands.  Veleggio is also renowned as the town in which the navel-shaped stuffed pasta tortellini was invented, although Castelfranco Veneto makes a similar claim.

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