NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It’s not often someone learns a sport at the age of 36 and becomes an Olympian just two years later. This athlete may not win a medal, but his victories are measured by his ability to compete while dealing with an incurable disease.
Roberto Carcelen is a cross country skiier.
He’s the first Peruvian to compete in the Winter Olympics. Now, at the age of 48, he’s coming out of retirement and taking one more shot at Olympic glory.
“If I can make it, it will be the most challenging and demanding one. Because I just got diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and training with Parkinson’s disease is almost close to impossible,” Carcelen revealed.
Last month, Roberto recieved the news his life will be changed forever.
“I walked through Central Park to home and I couldn’t digest it. I was thinking ‘What? Is this a dream I need to wake up from?'”
More than 10 million people worldwide are affected by Parkinson’s – a painful neurological disorder that causes tremors and progressively gets worse.
“Once they tell you officially that’s what you have, and the prognosis, and how things could progress or regress, its pretty devastating.”
Doctors suggested medication, but Roberto is easing his symptoms through proper nutrition and exercise.
“I’m doing what I know. Eating well and exercise. That’s known to not stop the illness, but at least slow down the progression of it.”
He’s not entirely unfamiliar with pain. In 2014, he broke his ribs while skiing. He should’ve spent three months in recovery. Instead, just days later, he competed in the Olympics.
He didn’t win – in fact he came in last place – but he won respect from everyone including the gold medal winner.
“He was waiting for me at the finish line. He gave me a big hug and I was trying to tell him I have two broken ribs,” Carcelen recalled. “I thought the worst was just to come. He was gonna break’em again or more!”
Cross country skiing is a grueling race that could last for hours. Every mile per hour of speed is earned and every competitor finds out what they’re made of.
“Growth is out of your comfort zone. Once you get out of there that’s where you find progress.”
Roberto works from home as a technology consultant. He’s using his skills to give back to his home country of Peru, starting a programming academy for kids. One-third of Peru’s population is in poverty, so creating a skillset in technology offers them an opportunity.
“Some of the kids that came didn’t know how to power on a computer the first day. After four months the way of thinking was different,” the Olympian said. “Seventy percent graduation rate and 10 percent are working in the industry.”
In his prime, Roberto would train four hours a day. Now he can do 30 minutes.
“I’m about 90 percent away. My body is not reacting like it used to because of Parkinson’s and age.
The Winter Olympics are still three years away. He’ll use that time to build himself up, and if he finishes enough races, qualify for the Beijing 2022 games – making him the first to ever compete in the Olympics with Parkinson’s. He’s not in search of gold, but a cure.
“I’m living my life as if it’s the last day every day. That’s why it’s going to be a very long journey. Painful and hopefully it’ll pay off,” Carcelen said.
“It’s not about winning, it’s about putting all your people on your back and cross the finish line together.”
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