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An Athlete and Advocate for Disability Sport in Guatemala

Born in Guatemala City, Julio Rueda has played sports since he was very young.  Alongside his brother, who helps him run sports programs to this day, he would rush out of the house to play football, basketball, and table tennis—anything to release his energy.

After a car accident left him paralyzed in 2008, Julio sought tirelessly for the right sport to help him push forward. Just like when he was a young boy with his brother, he tried athletics, badminton and wheelchair basketball.

“But none of them fit me perfect,” Julio says. “But when I started to play tennis I felt like ‘Wow. This is for me!’”

Over the years, Julio has risen to the International Tennis Federation Top 30 rankings in men’s wheelchair tennis (quadriplegic classification).

Aside from his athletic ambitions, Julio is also the founder of GLORSYs, a software company that also provides conferences and workshops to schools and rehabilitation centers for people with disabilities. The main focus of Julio’s work is to motivate and help people live independently, pursue sports, and adjust to new circumstances if they acquired their disabilities as adults.

Julio’s motivation to reach others came out of the reality that Guatemala is still not in a position where access and opportunities to thrive are available for disabled people. Julio began reaching out to friends online and created an online hub for people of all abilities to go out and play sports together. Through his international travel for tennis competitions, he also started collecting learning materials and sharing information with coaches from different disciplines, including badminton, athletics, and wheelchair basketball.

“To succeed in tennis, you need to be smart because you’re alone on the court. I loved team sports before, but now I have had to learn to be on my own, which applies to life with a disability in Guatemala,” Julio says. “If we can make it so that out of 20 children, maybe just two or three can find a way to make it to professional sports, then I think that’s a perfect step in the right direction.”

In order to take that step of engaging young athletes and bringing them from grassroots to high-performance sports, Julio needed to learn about advocacy and securing financial and practical support from government and sponsors. With more than 20 years of experience working in local government offices in the area of disability and youth initiatives, Larry was the ideal mentor. As the disability policy officer for the Chicago Parks District, the first park system in the U.S. with major focus on accessibility and disability programming, Larry and his team provided Julio with vital experience in collaborating with local governments and communities, as well as creative approaches to fundraising. Additionally, the large pool of Paralympians in Chicago, and the resources available through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, helped ensure Julio returned home with a comprehensive plan for how to take disability sports in Guatemala to the next level.

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