Mauro Zelayet is an Argentinian beach volleyball player who won a bronze medal in the 2018 Summer Olympics.
MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — After my mother was denied her chance to represent our country in the Olympics in 1992, I was compelled to do all that I could to pick up the torch and bring our family name to the ultimate sporting stage.
She was an athlete who had qualified for the Barcelona Olympic Games, but due to a bureaucratic error, she was unable to participate.
Fortunately, my mother was finally able to experience the Olympic Games thanks to my effort and sacrifice.
My name is Mauro Zelayeta, and I represent the Argentina Beach Volleyball Team. I wanted to reach the pinnacle of our sport so my mother could experience all that came with the Olympics vicariously through me.
The pain of the family
My mother, Ana María Comaschi, was an elite athlete who had qualified for the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992.
A few days before the start of the competition, there was a problem with her registration.
The Comité Olímpico Argentino (COA) forgot to write her name down and, as a result, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not let her compete.
She was so close to competing, but in the end, was forced to leave Spain and return home to Argentina.
She has never been able to wash away the bitter taste of not being able to compete.
The Olympics are something that every athlete competing in an Olympic sport wants and seeks throughout their career. Every time someone calls my mother for an interview, she tells the same painful story that dregs up the sadness over and over again.
Sometimes, when she visits places of Mar del Plata, people still recognize her and greet her.
I chose to focus on beach volleyball because my main motivation was to be able to participate in the Youth Olympic Games for family honor.
What happened to my mother in 1992 weighed a lot on me. Her influence was huge, as was her talent and drive — and her missing out on the Olympics experience — compelled me to get into competitive sports even though I never saw her compete.
She took me to play soccer at age four in Morumbí, from the city of Mar del Plata. Then I played in Boca de Mar del Plata until I went to Aldosivi when I was 14.
At the beach spa where I always spent the summer, I played beach volleyball as a hobby.
I started training with volleyball on Mondays and soccer from Tuesday to Friday until my body said enough.
That was when the national team asked me to train professionally to try out for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games of Buenos Aires. I decided to give up football to focus on volleyball.
I began to train very hard with the help of my mother to fulfill the dream of being in Buenos Aires representing my family and experiencing an Olympic Games with my mother by my side and in my heart.
It was a time of great sacrifice and effort, culminating in the selection to represent our country. Finally, I was going to fulfill my mother’s dream.
The experience of the Games was incredible.
I had the opportunity to meet players and athletes from all over the world and from different cultures.
In the morning, I would get up in the Olympic Village and watch through the window as athletes from different African countries were running and Europeans passed by pedaling on their bicycles.
My moment of glory came when we won the bronze medal.
I looked at the platform, where my family was cheering me, and I immediately made contact with my mother’s eyes. Then, I hugged my teammate and my coach.
I had managed not only to participate in an Olympic Games, but I got a medal. I felt fulfilled.
It was something that I will always have with me.
Live as an athlete
For me, being an athlete is a lifestyle.
From the moment you get up until you go to bed you dedicate the day to your body and performance.
I am constantly thinking that I have to go to train, take care of myself with meals, and do things to perform better. I have to make some sacrifices regarding what other “normal” kids do.
My mother supports me and understands me because she is also an athlete.
She always asks me to stretch when I finish training and insists that I should eat more fruit. Sometimes, she follows me around with a mini-fridge full of fruits and sports drinks. She does everything to help me.
From that time on, everything changed.
Back in Mar del Plata, my public recognition grew and doors opened to new opportunities.
I had to choose between indoor volleyball and beach volleyball. When you play indoor volleyball in a club and they pay you, they don’t want you to train for the beach. When you are part of the beach team you receive a scholarship, but they don’t let you train indoors.
So I had no choice but to quit beach volleyball.
It was mainly because there are few competitions.
With Indoor, I feel that there are more chances that I can become a professional.
I work daily to improve in hopes of representing my family again in the Olympics.
Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in Argentina with three professional leagues and teams from various provinces of the country. The professional leagues are Liga A1 de Volley Argentino, Liga A2 de Volley Argentino, and Liga Femenina de Volley Argentino.
This sport was introduced in Argentina in 1912 by the Young Men’s Christian Association. In 1932 the Argentine Volleyball Federation was founded. The following year, the first national championship of the first division was organized, consecrating the INEFA in the ladies category and the YMCA in the men’s category.
In 1939, the size and weight of the balls were regulated. In 1941 the Federation joined the Argentine Sports Confederation and the Argentine Olympic Committee.
The Argentine men’s senior volleyball team participated for the first time in an official international competition in 1951: the South American Volleyball Championship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they finished in fourth place.