International Mentoring Day Spotlight: Bayron and Mark

By Brian Canever, Center for Sport, Peace, & Society January 17, 2017

More than two decades ago, Bayron Lopez was a 14-year-old Ecuadorian boy learning to cope with a new reality. A motorcycle accident forced doctors to amputate his left leg and he wasn’t sure if life would ever be the same again. Before the accident, Bayron was the popular kid in the neighborhood, but after the accident few of his friends visited or remembered him. When he did finally built up the courage to leave the house, it was his sport wheelchair that made him feel whole again.

In his new gear, Bayron became one of his country’s most successful wheelchair racers, with more than 300 medals to his name. With sport to thank for bringing him hope when he most needed it, he dedicated himself to becoming a leader for the thousands of Ecuadorians who weren’t afforded the chance to experience sport’s power.

“Every morning, I look at my medals and I feel inspired to work harder,” Bayron says. “They remind me about the many people with disabilities in Ecuador who need the same opportunity to not only win medals, but to grow confident and healthy, and make new friendships that bring joy back into their lives.”

In 2016, Bayron was chosen participate in the U.S. State Department Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) under the new disability-focused Sport for Community program. At the time of his selection, he was in the final six months of his first term as president of the Ecuador Paralympic Committee. In four successful years leading the committee, Bayron pushed to expand grassroots recruitment of athletes in rural areas and was responsible for Ecuador qualifying its highest-ever number of athletes to a Paralympic Games.

The program intersected in his life at the perfect time. His mentor, Mark Lucas, executive director of the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, convinced him about servant-leadership and balancing the worlds of administrative and grassroots work. He taught him about the key role that adaptive sports programs could play in disaster relief, and encouraged him to see the impact he could continue making as the leader of Ecuador’s Paralympic movement. Following Mark’s guidance, Bayron ran for re-election in November was voted in for a second term that will run through the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

“In the past, I’ve had many opportunities to be a mentor and to represent my country as an athlete and president of the NPC,” Bayron says. “But the CSPS, State Department, and my mentor, Mark, showed me there are new tools and information available for me to make a bigger impact across society. Today there is only one Bayron Lopez, but I’m working so in the next year I can see 100 Bayrons in these communities.”

The relationship between mentor and mentee reached greater heights two months ago when Mark visited Bayron in Ecuador to support his newly-launched adaptive sports projects in Esmeraldas, Manabí, and Quito. In three workshops dedicated to teaching coaches, athletes, and community members about inclusion and empowerment through sports, the trio organized clinics that allowed people to engage with athletics, soccer, goalball, and sitting volleyball events—many for the first time in such a setting. In the end, 375 people of all abilities were impacted because of Bayron’s work.

“Everything was perfect,” Bayron says. “From the bottom of my heart, I am so thankful for the support from Mark.  They put smiles on the faces of hundreds of people. It is now my mission to keep touching these lives in the small communities of Ecuador and proving that sport does really change the world.”

Mark will participate in that capacity for a third time under the Sport for Community program. A longtime mentor in his community, his special relationship with Bayron helped push both men forward. He considers it “a lifetime friendship” and is hopeful about the ways mentorship will continue to transform lives in Colorado Springs, Ecuador, and throughout the rets of the world.

“Since I graduated college, I’ve had incredible opportunities to be a mentor,” Mark says. “I ran a summer camp in California and recruited staff from all over the world,  mentored girls playing softball for the first time, and I’ve tried to be a mentor and a role model for my 20 years at USABA. I believe it is part of my calling on earth to help people like Bayron become better, more effective leaders.”

International Mentoring Day on January 17—the birthday of Muhammad Ali—is a celebration the role of mentor, by asking the world to share their ideas around mentorship and create space for an international conversation. The celebration is part of National Mentoring Month, inaugurated in 2002 by President George W. Bush, and spearheaded by Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Follow along on social media and using the hashtags #mentorIRL and #NationalmentoringMonth