The Brazilian XC Skier Book: Extract 1
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.