Meet the Match

A Champion for Paralympic Sports in Ecuador

As a young man, Bayron Lopez was among the popular kids in the neighborhood. He loved to hang out with his friends and play sports. But then he was in a car accident that forced doctors to amputate his left leg and everything changed.

Bayron’s friends left and he was often alone at home with his family. Because of the fear of being discriminated against if he went out in the streets, he felt isolated and alone.

At the age of 14, Bayron had the opportunity to meet Ann Cody, program officer for the SportsUnited division of the U.S. State Department, Paralympic gold medalist, and governing board member of the International Paralympic Committee. It was around this time that he discovered wheelchair basketball, swimming, and ultimately his true passion for racing.

“I have won over 300 medals in the last 10 years,” Bayron says. “For me, every morning those medals inspire me. And I know there are many people with disabilities who need the same opportunity. Sport changed my life and I know it can change many, many more lives.”

Bayron is a pioneer for disability sports and the Paralympic movement in Ecuador. After launching and gaining attention for his own sports club for people with disabilities—Club El Empalme—in 2007, Bayron was appointed as the president of the National Paralympic Committee of Ecuador in 2012. In this position, he meets regularly with the U.S. Embassy and Ministry of Sports to find ways to increase resources available to disabled people that want to pursue sports at both the grassroots and high-performance levels.

But, there is still a severe lack of facilities and accessibility due the economic instability of the country. To illustrate how hard it is for disabled athletes, Bayron explains that he often trains at 2 a.m. on public roads, one of the few times when there is little traffic and he and his training partners aren’t in danger of being struck by a car.

“Right now in our country the money runs out,” Bayron says. “There is not enough money to support those with disabilities. And we have a lot of people now who say they are working with us, but they don’t know how and we’re losing time and money by investing in the wrong places. We need to have information on how to invest the small amount of money we receive to support programs that can be successful.”

When it comes to experience in executive leadership in the disability sport sector, Bayron received the model mentor in Mark Lucas, executive director of the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. Mark has over 30 years of experience working with the blind and visually-impaired. In his current role, he manages fundraising programs and budgeting, implements and monitors sports management programs for athletics, goalball, judo, swimming, skiing, and other sports, and acts as USABA’s chief spokesman to the USOC, where he serves as an executive member of the Multisport Organization Council. Mark helped guide Bayron through the process of developing relationships with prominent community partners and potential donors, as well as connected him with key influencers in the field. Together, the two men came up with a plan that allowed Bayron to create a sustainable platform that helps guarantee a bright future for both young and established athletes with disabilities in Ecuador.

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