October 26th, 2021
The day was July 15, 2004.
It was the day my family and I arrived in Canada, after fleeing Colombia and being unable to obtain asylum in the United States.
Upon arrival in Canada, my wife, son and I had to follow the process and qualify for “Refugee Status”. At the time, Canada accepted refugees unable to return to their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on political opinion, religion, and sexual orientation.
We qualified on the basis of political opinion. Canada at the time acknowledged Colombians were in a dangerous situation due to civil war within the country. The Canadian Government and the Colombian Government had an agreement such that Canada accepted people who couldn’t live in Colombia because of the war.
Getting here, however, was no easy task.
Life in Columbia
The civil war in Colombia was between the government and what the government called “the subversive groups”. There were many groups of this kind but the principal group was called FARC (“Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaris the Colombia”). All of these groups were deemed to be guerillas.
The initial mission of these groups was to help the general population find ways to live in a better society because there was corruption at the government level.
The FARC group was founded in 1948. Initially they fought, with great ideals, for Colombians’ rights, in a way that followed the law. There were times in history that the FARC held government positions. However, over time, the government targeted and persecuted them. The 1985 Palace of Justice Destruction by the government is an example of this.
After this targeting began, the FARC started recruiting people. They went where the government did not have enough public force, by way of army and police, and forcefully indoctrinated young people to fight for them.
After years of training, FARC members went out and fought against the government, using dangerous and illegal methods such as kidnapping and killing civilians and people from the government. They used the illegal drug trade to finance their power struggle.
The civilian population began to suffer significantly as a consequence of frequent confrontations between the government and these subversive groups. Sometimes even civilians were killed by the government.
The civilian population wanted change, but in many cases were forced to follow the guerillas. For example, many farmers and their families were threatened by the guerrillas and were forced to pay taxes to them. The farmers could never tell the government about the guerillas due to the threat they were under.
The guerillas established their own government system in many parts of Colombia and the population had to follow their rules. Some people could not afford the suffering and left their properties, and went to the big cities looking for protection and better lives.
Many people moved to the big cities and the government was unable to handle the influx of people. Poverty was a big problem and many did not have the resources to survive. Many went to the periphery of the big cities and took over properties that did not belong to them just to find a place to live. People started looking closely at the government system and disagreed with how the government was handling the situation.
The guerillas, however, noticed when people abandoned their properties and moved to the big cities. The guerillas mixed in with the general population and it was difficult to distinguish who was a former farmer, and who was from the guerilla.
During this time, I was a lawyer and specialized in International Law. I tried to help people who were in danger because of the war. I tried to convince them that they had the power to change the situation using the power of voting to elect their own leaders to fight at the government level. At the same time as all of this was occurring, my wife was in her last year of University studies to become a lawyer. She had to practice as a co-op student to get her diploma in many dangerous places in Columbia, and I often accompanied her for security reasons. I started to speak with people affected by these problems and listened to their problems. I took note of their complaints and tried to help them look for possible solutions. I tried to convince them to enforce their legal rights.
Even after my wife finished her legal practice in these areas I continued to visit these areas and tried to persuade people to fight for their rights.
One day, I was approached by an armed guerilla and asked to shut up and leave the country immediately.
I felt I needed to surrender because I understood that the guerrilla wanted political power, and would do anything to obtain this, regardless of the impact it would have on our beautiful country.
Fleeing to the USA
The very next day, on a day in 1999, I took my passport and traveled to Minnesota, USA, where it would be difficult for the FARC to find me.
I was waiting for peace in Columbia before I returned home. This did not happen.
Through secret communication, I convinced my wife and young son to join me in the USA. While in the USA, my wife and I tried to create a better life for our son. We knew we could not go back to our country, and needed to achieve legal status somehow. We searched long and hard for a solution. We thought that sports may be it, given that they are a big part of life in the USA. If our son was good at any sport, we thought, there may have been a chance for him.
We tried to get our son involved in soccer. He went to the best clubs in the area, and trained hard. He also participated in any paid training that was offered where we lived.
Unfortunately, our travel visas expired and we were considered illegal immigrants. We could not seek asylum in the USA and had to leave, and so, we began the refugee process in Canada.
Life in Canada
We successfully obtained refugee status in Canada.
When we arrived to Canada we told our son that there was no pressure for him to play soccer anymore. He played competitive soccer for several seasons until he realized that was enough for him. He then exchanged soccer for running and formed part of a running club where he practised all year long for a few years.
One winter, when my son was practicing, I was in the car waiting for him to finish. It was cold and there was not enough heat in the car for me to stay warm, so I got out and started walking. My son suggested that now was time for me to start practicing a sport for my own health.
I continued to go to his practices, where I would walk. This walking turned to running, and led me to attempt the Scotiabank Half Marathon in Toronto. Unfortunately, because I didn’t have the proper running training, I injured one of my knees.
With some money that our son earned in his first job he decided to invest in a Triathlon bike. My wife and I thought it was strange because he didn’t know anything about triathlons but it was his money and we didn’t have any problem with him spending it on that. After he tried maneuvering the bike many times, he decided he had enough and left it in our basement.
While my son was in university, he called and told me that he wanted to sell that bike to pay his rent. I knew that he would not receive the money that he had invested in it if he sold it, so I asked how much money he needed. I provided him with those funds, and kept the bike.
For some time that bike sat in our basement, collecting dust, until one day my beautiful wife asked me to try it out and see if I could attempt a triathlon.
“No way!” was my first reaction to her suggestion. I looked into it anyway, and found some interest in it. I took the bike out of the basement with my wife’s encouragement. After many falls, I managed to use the biking shoes and the bike itself. Although I knew nothing about triathlons, I found a race in Woodstock and wanted to try it out. First, though, I needed to find a swimming suit. I distinctly remember the day my wife and I went to the store to find a water triathalon suit. I remember the face of the vendor when I told him the suit I wanted to buy was for me. Though he gave me some gloves and suits to try on, we knew that none of them would fit.
Some time later, my wife passed a store and saw a suit for sale. Though these suits cost approximately $200.00, the one she bought was only $20.00!
Eventually, the time for the triathlon had come. Our car was full with the bike, my running shoes, and my new suit. I didn’t want to officially participate in it because I didn’t have experience, so I tried it on my own, unofficially.
I have improved a lot since my first triathlon. I began to practice more, gained more confidence, and progressed in the various distance the triathlon offers. Each year, I did 2 to 3 races.
Since we took that bike out of our basement, I haven’t stop training for this fantastic sport. I love engaging in this sport in every season, and many factors related to my life in Canada, such as stable employment, good physical health, terrific mental conditions and a perfect family environment, had made it easy for me to continue.
I truly believe that my last race is always the best race, because I always learn something new.
I signed up for the 70.3 Muskoka Ironman in 2019 in order to participate in 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that race was cancelled and we had to do it in 2021 (the majority of athletes decided to do it in 2022). Many factors influenced me to sign up for this specific race but the biggest factor was our son.
Specifically, our son finished his first 140.2 full ironman in Montblanc Quebec in 2019. At the end of the race he was very excited. He held me in a strong hug and said “I did this 140.2 miles for you, you are my mentor, thank you dad”.
While for others, the frustration of not being able to practice or participate in any race in 2020 influenced them to quit and not participate in the 2021 race, our family didn’t want to confine ourselves to our house and we pushed each other to go out and, as conditions permitted, I continued to practice as I could. In our continuous virtual meetings at work I showed my progress to my co-workers and I got full support from them, as well as from my friends. At the end of the day, the COVID-19 pandemic gave me the final push to participate in this race.
It is true that we can’t do anything about the adversities that life offers to us, but with regret we achieve nothing, and if we all do something, no matter how small or big it is to overcome this situation, very soon we will get ahead.
We are Colombians.