Hélio Freitas Sports Biography

Hélio Freitas started training for triathlons in 1993, competed as an age grouper in the 1995 World Triathlon Championships, and finished an Ironman Triathlon in 1998. In 2000 and 2001, he competed on marathons, when he got his personal best time of 2h33min.
Even though he got some impressive results for an amateur athlete, he wasn’t good enough to beat Brazilian professional athletes and qualify for Summer Olympics.
When Hélio read about the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the Brazilian wondered if he would have a chance to represent his country in Winter Olympics, and decided it was worthwhile giving it a try.
Until 2002, Hélio had never even watched people practicing cross country ski, since Brazilian TV has never broadcast a race of this sport. The only thing he knew about it was that this is the most physically demanding sport on the planet. Being an endurance athlete, that raised his interest.
Therefore, in August 2002, he traveled to Ushuaia, Argentina, when he was able to learn the very basics of the sport. In 2003, he bought his first roller ski, and started training in Brazil.
Also in 2003, he competed for the first time in Argentina, where the Brazilian Championships are held. He is a five time Brazilian cross country ski champion (2003/2004/2005/2006/2007).
Hélio was the first Brazilian to represent his country in a Nordic Ski World Championship (February 2005), and qualified for the XX Olympic Winter Games as the best ranked Brazilian on the FIS Points List.
In February 2006, he left Brazil to go to Torino´s snow.
"In World Championships and Olympics, there are always a few athletes representing countries that do not have snow, " says Helio. "But all of them live in countries with snow, or at least spend a long time training in the snow. I´ve never heard of any other Winter Olympics athlete who has traveled directly from a tropical country to the Olympic Village, like I did in 2006.”

Brazilian newspapers and magazines showed Hélio´s story:

At Torino 2006, Hélio competed at the 15 km Classical race, finishing 92 out of 99 participants, in 54min06sec. When asked about his participation on the event, he said:
"Given the obstacles and limitations I’ve faced for a proper training, I was happy just by being at the Olympics. In the end, I had my best performance, and managed to be faster than some other guys, so I had an extra reason for joy."

After the Olympics, Helio competed at the 2007 Nordic Ski World Championships (Sapporo, Japan) and 2009 Nordic Ski World Championships (Liberec, Czech Republic).
In January 2011, Helio competed at the US Cross Country Championships, and finished the race in just above 1 hour. If he was 14 seconds faster, he would have earned an automatic spot at the 2011 World Championships. In this event, as well as in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Brazil was represented only by full time athletes who spend most of the year training and competing on snow.
In the near future, Helio intends to start focusing on long distance races.



Below you can read selections from a book that tells Helio´s story. The book, written by his wife, was not published.


The Brazilian XC Skier Book: Extract 1

Hélio is a Brazilian cross country skier. It's true, he does ski in Brazil.
Due to the lack of snow in the tropics, he skis on grass or pavement.
He lives in a city of one million dwellers, whose temperatures on summer rise far above 30 degrees Celsius. Donning a pair of boots and all terrain skis to practice such a physically demanding sport under that heat is probably the closest thing to hell on earth.
Hélio usually trains in a busy boulevard, where the sweaty and lonely skier can be watched in this uncommon situation by the passengers of approximately five thousand cars in a training session of an hour and a half.
Reactions differ: curiosity, amusement, sometimes irony, always surprise.
Hélio says that one group that completely approves his strange training routines is children.
"They always come and ask me what I'm doing", says Hélio.
He explains that children look up to him even regardless of social class.
"The other day there was a little guy washing windscreens at the traffic light. As I started my training session, he came over to talk. I explained what I was doing, that I couldn't train on snow, and had no choice but to ski on grass. He thought that it was awesome. When the lights turned green, he kept coming back for more questions, or just to watch me."
On the other hand, Hélio also got used to hearing nasty remarks like "You nutcase, there's no snow in Brazil!" or "If you want to show yourself off, why don't you hang a watermelon around your neck"?
This could be embarassing for many people, but for him, an introvert who strives to go unnoticed and avoid bad mouthing otherwise, it's certainly a nightmare.
Those who know him well wonder how he has the guts.
Only a great passion for the sport can explain it.
Hélio's reward for his effort and dedication came with an unexpected public recognition on February 2005, when he represented Brazil at the Nordic Ski World Championships.
Well acquainted with both the nastiest remarks and lighthearted jokes, he was suddenly overwhelmed by the interest of journalists and newly acquired fans.
The official website of the event proclaimed: "The Brazilian athlete Hélio Freitas became darling of the public in the first cross-country race of the men's competition". During the 15km freestyle race, he was the most celebrated participant. He got more TV airtime than elite competitors, and was featured in many Europeans newspapers. Hélio also appeared on some of the most relevant Brazilian newspapers.
The interest was not raised by his skiing skills, but by the exotic appeal of an athlete who comes from a tropical country and still dedicates himself to a snow sport.
Cross country skiing is virtually unheard of to most Brazilians. Hélio himself saw it for the first time in 2002, over 30 years old at the time.
Unlike the best cross country skiers, who are born and raised on skis, Hélio had to learn to balance himself on skis much later in life. He has no other way than settling with grass or pavement instead of snow. And to train alone, without a coach or partners.
Cus D'Amato, who trained boxers like former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, used to say that resilience and will power are much more worth than muscles.
Maybe the world is still a romantic place, and the huge media coverage given to a hard working skier in a star studded championship reflects what the average person expects for themselves: the overcoming obstacles and dedication to dreams that seem hopeless, unattainable or, at least, far fetched.



The Brazilian XC Skier Book: Extract 2

After competing at the Nordic World Ski Championships, Hélio was not so happy when an Estonian reporter compared him to Eric Moussambani.
Moussambani, only 8 months after his first contact with a swimming pool, was thrown in to stardom after a 100 meters freestyle race at the 2000 Olympics.
His time on the water was laughed at, and his childish swimming style was ridiculed.
Helio states: “It’s not a fair comparison. Ok, he finished last, and he didn’t have access to a proper swimming pool, just as I get no snow in Brazil. For the rest, I can finish among the last on high level competitions, but I’m fiercely dedicated to cross country skiing, I train as much as I can, much longer than 8 months, and with all due respect, I’m better at cross country skiing than he was at swimming. Besides, you can’t compare swimming a 100 meters to what I do.“
Olympic Games aspire to unite folks of all continents, which is fittingly represented by the five intertwined rings that give the Olympic Symbol shape.
Nonetheless, in Hélio's opinion, Olympians, besides being the best athletes in their countries, need also to be deeply committed to the sport they engage themselves in.
"I believe the union that the Games intend to provide would have even more value if all continents, including Africa, were able to send to the Olympics athletes who have had the opportunity to dedicate themselves and who truthfully try to achieve the best possible level within the realm of their possibilities."
That goes hand in hand with Hélio's answer when asked about the opportunity of taking part in such heavyweight events as the World Championships and the Olympic Games, in which the Brazilian skier inevitably stands in a lower performance level than world's top notch: “It’s not my intention to be in the spotlight as an object of curiosity, but because my effort can be a source of inspiration for those who believe that their personal limitations and daily obstacles would end up closing doors. Instead, they should strive to continue in the pursuit of their ambitions. Not only when it comes to sports, but also as a way of life in general.”
The mind-boggling record-breaking results we see on TV constitute an inspiration for us to do our best. As not every single one of us is a performance athlete, such inspiration can be channeled through work, leisure activities and even our personal relationships.
This makes us, even in our ordinary everyday lives, feel like doing stuff in an extraordinary way, finding satisfaction in the challenge itself and then in stretching limits.
Helio himself found the drive to take up the challenge of skiing in the endeavor of all the athletes competing in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
However, the magic creatures that most of us only see on TV seem very far away from us. They are almost unreal in their immaculate perfection.
Helio, on the other hand, is someone like us, who dreamt of becoming a competitive skier while living in a country where there is no snow. The fact that he pursued his dream and was able to make it come true by practicing on grass and pavement may actually signify that extra sparkle most of us need to struggle for things that suddenly seem less complicated than before.

Photos: Reuters


The Brazilian XC Skier - Extract 3

Being aware of his technical deficiencies, Hélio has put a lot of dedication to the sport of cross country skiing, even more than when he trained for triathlons and marathons.
When he is on snow, he practices as many hours as he possibly can, and is usually one of the last to leave the tracks, only when the night comes. This devotion has gotten him in some awkward situations.
One North American athlete warned the Brazilian:
“Don’t you ever go to Oslo, your life would be in danger!”
The jokester explained:
“The trip would be a great risk to your health. In Oslo, some of the tracks are illuminated during all night, so you would probably ski yourself to death!”
In 2003, Hélio went to Italy, in what was still his second time on snow. After many hours of skiing, he ended up completely alone in the interminable white vastness.
When he at last decided to leave the track, he wasn’t able to take his rented skis off, no matter how hard he tried. He felt like a fish out of water, an outsider, a feeling that he would have many other times in his experience on snow.
He may laugh at the incident today but, during the mishap, what Hélio most wanted in the world was to turn into dust himself – or rather into snow. When the problem persisted, he shouted at himself all unimaginable names.
This is the printable version of what came into the Brazilian’s mind:
"Who am I to think that I can learn how to ski and start competing? I am not even able to do the basics!"
Hélio had no alternative but to go back to the store where he had rented the equipment by walking on the skis.
On his way there, which seemed longer than any marathon, Hélio asked himself once more whether it was worth it, since he was spending a good deal of money and wasting many vacation days with something that could end up in nothing but pure waste.
Upon arriving at the rental store, he was humiliated by the person in charge, who was furious at the sight of someone walking with his skis, damaging the equipment.
"What could I have done? I couldn’t stay at the track until tomorrow!", said a despondent – and also irritated - Hélio.
When the experienced employee had trouble himself freeing the ski, which was really stuck, the rookie felt a little better. After some attempts, the ski finally yielded.
Hélio was embarrassed at his situation, but managed to sigh with relief.
At least nobody but the man at the rental place had watched the whole scene…

Photos: Getty Images

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