My story with visual impairment began when I was 27 years old. At the time, she had just passed a competition to work as an early childhood education teacher. It worked for a month, but soon after I discovered an anomaly in one of the eyes. Because it’s a rare condition, doctors had so little knowledge of, I didn’t get an accurate diagnosis right away.
On the contrary, they believed that it could be a complication of cysticercosis, a disease caused by worms that can affect vision. Since it was considered dangerous, I had to undergo corrective surgery. Only at the time of the procedure did the professionals realize that this was not the real cause of my problem.
After the surgery, I experienced several complications, including retinal detachment. As a result, I lost the function of this eye and had to have other surgeries to try to correct what was causing my vision loss, but I was unsuccessful. Away from work, it took me over two years to adjust to monovision. Because of my health and long periods of recovery after the procedures, which prevented me from becoming a teacher, I was able to retire.
After the adjustment period, she continued to live normally. One of my hobbies was physical activity, because I knew exercise was good for my health. I loved going to the gym, but ended up stopping after I had a retinal detachment that required me to stay effortless.
“Four years ago, I received news that I would lose sight in the other eye.”
Four years ago, I began to realize that my vision was no longer what it used to be. I dropped things on the floor and could no longer see clearly. After a medical examination, I found out that I had a degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which is gradually detrimental to the function of my eyes. I left the office not thinking this could happen to me, because the possibility of losing my vision completely never crossed my mind.
However, upon arriving home, my record dropped. My idea at first was that my life would come to an end and that I would become a fully dependent person. So I retired for three days to live with this pain. After this period, for which I have so much love for life, I decided I was too young to think this way. I was going to go live and produce, I wasn’t sure how to do it yet.
I got a month at the gym as a gift from a friend, as an incentive to get back to exercising. At first, I was afraid to contact weight machines, because I could see so few things, I was afraid to stumble or fall. But little by little I found a coach who helped me with these issues and the feeling was very good, as if I belonged to that place and I felt more alive there.
“I heard from a doctor that the best thing for me is to stay silent at home”
But when I mentioned this to one of the doctors who accompanied me, I was very disappointed. He suggested to me that based on this diagnosis, the best thing for me would be to retire at home and take a walk in the backyard, with someone. Hearing that was terrible, because my desire was to be part of the community, to feel like everyone else.
So I looked for another doctor, so he could help me with my performance in training. I risked asking if I could fulfill my dream of becoming an athlete and said he could be loyal – because if I thought it would be better for me to give up on the idea, I would follow his recommendation. He greeted me and replied with a phrase I will never forget: I can do anything. It increased my desire to achieve this and I began to work more and more in coaching.
Soon people started noticing an improvement in my body: I started training and eating like an athlete. When I realized I had been able to achieve my goals, I got excited and started looking, without pretense, for bodybuilding. I started following the competitors on social networks and getting closer to this universe that was completely unknown until then.
“At the age of 50, I was asked to participate in a bodybuilding competition”
One day, she started interacting on social media with bodybuilder Fernando Sardinha. Seeing my profile, he invited me to participate in the Sardinha Classic, in Balneário Camboriú (SC), in the special category, aimed at people with disabilities. At that time, I did not think of everything I would have to learn, nor of the difficulties I would encounter. I simply asked if I could have someone accompany me on stage, and given the positive response, I accepted the challenge and went.
I teamed up with a personal trainer, a physical trainer, an athletic trainer, and a doctor, who embraced the idea. I had to overcome the difficulty of walking in high heels without losing my balance, which is very difficult for me. Then I adapted my diet and training. Some days I only eat carbs, others only protein. I even took 6 liters of water in one day to constantly refresh my body. But with each step, I felt more motivated to keep going.
When the day of the event arrived, I was so well received by people that I was thrilled to remember. Some days I feel invisible in society. Visually impaired people are seen as people who impede the unbridled running of others. Often times, they almost run over me in the street because they are impatient with my rhythm. But there, on stage, I saw myself as an equal. Since I was the only woman competing in this category, I won – and was invited by the judges to apply for others, as they see me have the potential to compete with non-disabled people as well.
Today I still have a small portion of my central vision preserved, but I know I’m in danger of losing it. Despite this, I feel like I’m starting and enjoying a new career, something I couldn’t do in my youth. Thanks to the exercises, I have more independence, strength, security and self-esteem – and I don’t intend to leave this universe anytime soon.” Laura Popri-Justino, 50, bodybuilder, lives in Tubarao (SC)
“Music fanatic. Very humble explorer. Analyst. Travel fanatic. Extreme television teacher. Gamer.”