Rocío Pereyra: “Qualifying to the World Cup gave me strength to keep fighting”

She sells raffle tickets in order to pay the expenses and fulfill one of the dreams of her life. Just before participating at the World Taekwondo Championship in Inzell, Germany, she demonstrates that in this sport, the biggest pains don’t come from the strikes of the rivals.

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How did you get to practice Taekwondo?

I was 9 years old when I started at the “Sociedad de Fomento Andrés Rolón”, a small club from my neighborhood, located two blocks from my house, and that is my second home. My friends even say that I spend more time there than where I live! My twin sister, Belén, went there to try one class, and came back so happy that made me curious about it, especially because it was a pretty much unknown sport.

The category that you represent is amateur in your country (Argentina). In which other countries occurs the same?

Exactly! The ITF, the category in which I compete, is totally amateur in Argentina. We aren’t recognized by any sport department or institution. We are almost nothing. It’s hard to say it this way, but it’s the truth. Not only we receive no economic support, but there’s even no kind of visibility of this sport or martial art, that is so important for us who practice it and, undoubtedly, for the society.

Many European countries support our discipline, and that’s reflected on the quality of the athletes. Our country also has exceptional representatives, but the difference in terms of lifestyle is clear. They are completely dedicated to this martial art, while we have to make many more sacrifices. And the same happens in the rest of Latin America.

Two Taekwondo Federations coexist. What are the main differences between them, and what is the status of each?

Yes, there’s the ITF, which I represent, and the WTF, which is recognized as a sport by the Argentinean National Secretary of Sports. Some elite athletes from the WTF receive subsidy from the State. They are much more supported than us, because ITF is not recognized as a sport, and that’s why we get no backup, even though in Argentina there are more ITF than WTF representatives, but for political reasons it’s hard to achieve unity.

Those who compete on ITF can do so on WTF or the other way around?

No, unless he/she practices and is registered on both. But that never happens because, although everything is Taekwondo, rules are different. ITF allows punches that WTF doesn’t. For instance, we use gloves to strike and it’s allowed to punch in the chest and face. That’s forbidden by WTF.

How does it make you feel having no support from the State?

Many sensations, in fact. From the time my story began to spread thanks to the media, I haven’t stopped thinking the way to make our beloved taekwondo more popular.

Why do you think this particular sport should count with more support?

In the first place, because it’s a completely noble and healthy sport, excellent for the development at different levels, from physical to cognitive, affective and social, and that delivers great values, as every martial art does.

How do you feel about competing at the World Cup in Germany, and how are you preparing yourself?

Having qualified is already part of a fulfilled dream. Never before I presented myself to a “selective”, a tournament at which you get to compete with other Argentinean girls from the same category, and only the best are ranked. I qualified and that was amazing and gave me strength to keep fighting, on every sense. To me, getting to compete at the World Cup means that everything is achievable.

How are you getting ready for this big challenge?

My training changed a lot since I qualified. From December to the date I’m training almost every day double shift, with the corresponding breaks. Now in January, training is physical. I also train Taekwondo, but it’s mainly physical, also considering that we are on the vacation period and therefore I’m not giving classes. There are days on which my body is exhausted, but my mind and my dreams are greater. On February and March, training is much more technical and tactical in terms of strategies for the fight.

How do you manage to pay for the expenses of your participation on the World Cup without the help of any organism?

When I got the classification, I found myself into many expenses. The World Cup is on April in Germany, and that means an important cost of travelling, lodging with the other delegations, the inscriptions, etc. There are also other invisible expenses, such as clothing and equipment for the head, feet and hands. Those things need constant renewal, moreover when you train so many hours a day. The truth is that everything sums, and the expenses are huge. So, in order to raise money, my coach and I had the idea to sell raffle tickets at a cost of AR$ 100, with totally symbolic prices. This is helping me a lot to fulfill my great dream.

Releasing raffle tickets to pay for the expenses in order to have the chance to participate of such an important sport event should serve as a wake-up call for the authorities. What do you think should change? What is people’s reaction?

As I said before, aside from my dream of participating in the World Cup, my biggest dream is to make ITF Taekwondo more visible and popular, given the great benefits that it brings. Anyone who listens to me would think that I say this because I practice it, but no, I can assure that any person who knows someone that practices will think the same way. With all the visibility that my case is having, I’d love that the authorities could rethink the role that this martial art occupies in the society, and the benefits that it could bring if we get more recognition. We not only have top-level representatives in Argentina, but also many instructors on every province willing to offer their knowledge in different entities, showing all the benefits that our martial art brings within.

Regrettably, in sports it’s common to show the face of the success and the profits that many athletes receive, leaving aside those who practice pushed by the love to the discipline, and that fight day by day against the adversities. How does that impact on you?

Look, I like very much every sport. You put me to practice any of them and I do so. I like football, both watching and playing it. But football, such as other sports, is too overrated, and receives enormous support from the authorities. To see the massive, excessive support makes me think that it’d be nice that at least a part of those benefits were perceived by other sports that are not as visible as football. That would cause huge impact, mainly to us who dedicate our lives to this, both in terms of competition and education.

When did you start teaching Taekwondo?

I started very young, when I was 16. At the club where I practiced there was a girl teaching a small group of 4 children. She got pregnant and couldn’t continue. With a friend, Evelyn, we decided to replace her and we never stopped since. Today we feel proud of having a beautiful school, named TKD San Isidro. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram. We give classes to people of all ages, from 4-year-old kids to adults.

What future goals do you plan for your discipline?

In the long-term, I aim to transmit my experience and knowledge to my students. I have many young students wearing black belt that want to start giving lessons, and to me that’s wonderful. The idea of leaving a legacy and making the school grow to make Taekwondo more popular would be the best. Talking about my personal goals and the competition, well, keep training and competing until my body says “stop!”. This is a beautiful passion, and I believe that with passion everything is possible.

How did this sport help you throughout your life?

It’s not just a sport, but a martial art that brings values for life. It taught me a lot: self-confidence, commitment, respect. Here, from the moment that you start to practice there are five principles that you keep always in mind, and that you inevitably reflect on life: courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance and indomitable spirit.

I imagine that the people around you play a fundamental role. What can you say about them?

They are fundamental, indeed. My family supports me on everything, no matter what happens. Sometimes I’m back late from training, and they are there waiting for me with food and asking me how was my day. Then I have my two best friends, Eve and Fiamma, partners of Taekwondo and life, who back me up on every circumstance. And also my coach, Fede Monzón, that no matter day or time, he’s there for me unconditionally, to help me train until exhaustion and motivate me when everything becomes more difficult.

Would you send a message to the authorities that have the chance of changing the situation?

I’d love that they could reconsider the value that they give to sport. It’s something so important, beautiful and fully shapes the lives of people. Also, that new non-conventional disciplines could be opened, which will surely brake their schemes and exceed their expectations.

For those who want to help you with the raffle tickets, what should they do?

The selling started on January and will most probably continue until mid-February, when we are going to make the raffle, live through my personal Instagram account. As I said before, it only costs $100, and if anyone is interested, send a private message to my Facebook account: Ro Pereyra, and then we arrange for the delivery. That is one of the ways, but I don’t want to stop mentioning that my profession and my breadwinner are the classes that I give to people of all ages. Everyone is welcome, and will be received with open arms!

Agustín Palmisciano

Translation by: Julián Luppi

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