Meet the Match
A Paraguayan Champion Shares Message of Empowerment
Camila Pirelli was born to be an athlete.
Raised in the town of Ayolas, Paraguay, near the border with Argentina, her father was a former basketball player and her mother a pentathlon champion. With a passion and affinity for sport in her blood, Camila became a champion figure skater and swimmer by the time she was a teenager. But, at the age of 16, she discovered her life’s true calling.
It was at that time that a track and field coach from Asuncion found Camila running and saw her potential as a future record-breaker. The coach reached out to Camila’s mother and told her, “I’m going to make your daughter a South American champion in 10 months.”
The prediction came true when Camila won her first gold medal in pentathlon at the South American Youth Championships in 2006. Since then, she has gone on to achieve several Paraguayan records in track and field, as well as to win gold medals in both the Bolivarian Games and South American Games.
In 2007, Camila was offered a sports scholarship to attend Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. As an international student, Camila excelled at balancing the demands of classes and a career in athletics. She set the university record in the indoor pentathlon and heptathlon as well as the javelin. In 2012, she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology was named an Athlete of Excellence as the highest academic performer among student-athletes.
Despite her success in the classroom and on the track, Camila has regularly battled injuries and recently missed out on competing in the Rio Olympics after her 2014 season was interrupted by a severe shoulder injury. She chooses not to be discouraged, though, as she believes sport teaches how to cope with failure and still persevere.
“On the track, there are moments when your body or mind want you to stop and you have to fight against it” Camila says. “I always compare life to a hurdle race. When you get past one challenge, you are happy. But you have another one right in front of you. Sport teaches you to fight and embrace the journey ahead.”
In Paraguay, Camila recognizes that the culture of machismo puts women in the face of violence and discrimination, giving them a sense of disempowerment. In the outskirts of Asuncion, where marginalized communities live in shantytowns, high rates of domestic violence and criminality disproportionately affect women. And while prominent women have risen in the ranks of Paraguayan politics, women in the country still face the stereotypes that they are better suited for motherhood or domestic jobs.
“There aren’t conversations with girls about becoming professionals,” Camila says. “If you are 30 years old and don’t have a family you are considered a failure by society. Because of this mentality there is no hunger for change no dreams for girls to achieve greatness.”
Camila refuses to accept this limitation for herself and feels a passion for sharing this message with girls throughout Paraguay. The platform for this message is her own success as an athlete and female icon. She previously volunteered with the Paraguayan Minister of Sports and Serving Paraguay, an NGO that provides children with opportunities to train in track and field.
“There are so many kids with potential out there” Camila says. “They are 8 years old and they get on the track and want to race me! They ask to train with me and I love that. They are so innocent. If they have the proper education, they’re not going to be criminals—they’re going to be successes.”
Camila wants to leverage the power of track and field as a way to encourage girls and underserved youth in Paraguay to set goals and increase their confidence. While she has the support of the Ministry of Sports, Camila knows she needs to develop and refine skills in leadership development, organizational management, and storytelling to entice sponsors and the public as she develops her program.
Gwen Conley, vice president and group media director for Rubin Postear and Associates (RPA), will be able to work well with her on these goals. With more than 20 years of experience in the advertising industry, Gwen is a proven leader and expert in integrated marketing and communications. Having previously served as a U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program mentor, Gwen is a longtime supporter and committed contributor to the program. With Gwen’s support, Camila will be able to gain the knowledge and experience needed to develop a sports platform that inspires thousands of girls and women throughout her country.