Herbert Aceituno wins first Paralympic medal for El Salvador

The powerlifter has become the nation's new hero after winning El Salvador's first Paralympic medal in history

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Herbert Aceituno made history today by winning the first Paralympic medal for El Salvador, which automatically makes him one of the great sports greats of Central America. His bronze medal, obtained in the 59 kg weightlifting weightlifting category behind People's Republic China's QI Yongkai and Sherif Osman from Egypt, was the culmination of a long and illustrious athletic career.

Aceituna's had a meteoric rise in the sport: he is the first Salvadoran weightlifter who has participated in a Paralympic Games (Rio 2016) and had made his mark right through the Parapan American Games of Lima 2019 where he won the gold medal) that made his victory preevered. However, the road for El Salvador's national flag bearer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 has not been an easy one.

"I was bullied when I started attending school. But in the end that no longer mattered to me because my parents showed me what is really important [in life]. I will not deny that that was a challenging period [in my life] because you want to play and socialise with others...," Aceituno told elsalvador.com.

"With the issue of discrimination, in the end I said 'God knows why'. I started studying, I got to high school and the same thing happened to me. But a friend told me 'let's go to the gym'. My friend always encouraged me to go. So I went," he explains.

Kike, as he is often called made his international debut at the 2016 World Cup held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which coincided in the same time window as the Paralympic Games that year.

His ambition has always been to win a Paralympic medal.

"Disability comes from the mind, not the body," he went so far as to declare three days ago upon his arrival at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Village.

Aceituno was born with achondroplasia, which limited his growth possibilities at an early age, as well as hydrocephalus.

"The doctors told my mother that I would only live for three months."

That incorrect diagnosis gave him enough resilience to cope with a complicated childhood and adolescence whilst growing up. However, Aceituno found his place when he discovered sport at 20-years-old.

"Sport is important because it opens many doors for you. Sometimes you think that nothing is going to happen with sport and yes, it even opens friendships. Even with sports I feel motivated. Many people who say I can't do it, see my case and say 'if he could do it, I can do it too'," he told elsalvador.com.

Herbert's father, who was an important figure in the athlete's life, sadly passed away shortly before his son could compete in the Tokyo 2020 Games.

"My parents were both happy and sad [when I qualified] because they had never given me the opportunity to go so far away, to another country. They were worried about how I would feel in another country.

Aceituno carries a keychain from his father with him at all times, which motivates him to follow his dreams.

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