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Joaquín Baronio celebrating the consecration ceremony with the Argentine team
Joaquín Baronio celebrating the consecration ceremony with the Argentine team | Photo courtesy of Copa América

Young man with dwarfism, skeletal disorder wins at world soccer championship

During the consecration, I fell on my knees in joy. Tears rolled down my face and onto the floor. I could feel the warmth of the tears escaping my eyes as I embraced the reward of my sacrifice and effort.

Interview Subject
Joaquín Baronio was born on August 10, 2001 in Rosario, Argentina. He experienced complications with his body throughout childhood due to achondroplasty, which is a growth disorder that produces dwarfism and turns cartilage to bone, making him a victim of bullying and discrimination.
From a very young age, he has felt a passion for soccer. Despite the fact that at different times during his growth he was unable to practice due to the three major operations, he managed to surpass his dreams and become the goalkeeper of the Argentine soccer team for people of short stature.
Background Information
The short-sized Argentina soccer team became champion of the last Dwarf Copa América played in Peru and Joaquín Baronio was the star of the final match against Paraguay. Upon returning to the city, he was recognized by the Club Atlético Rosario Central and by the Chamber of Deputies of the Province of Santa Fe.

ROSARIO, Argentina — I lived a difficult childhood, struggling with a skeletal disorder where cartilage turns to bone; but my family’s fanatical passion for soccer led me to compete in the Copa América World Cup. From a young age, I remember kicking the ball around with my father in the large, green fields. A love for the sport blossomed inside me.

Through it all, the surgeries and the dwarfism caused by achondroplasty took a toll. I constantly endured bullying and discrimination. People often looked at me differently or pointed and laughed. I noticed their reactions and expressions of disapproval. From a young age, I learned to be mentally strong and I still am. That strength allowed me to face the laughter and discrimination I often encountered in my life.

Future athlete faces surgeries, wheelchair, and discrimination

During my school years, I often had to use a wheelchair, and I took strength from the classmates who supported me. Between 2009 and 2015, I underwent three excruciating surgeries for bone-lengthening – including the tibia, fibula, femur, and humerus. Through my leg surgeries I grew nine inches each time and after my humerus surgery, my arms also grew.

While difficult, without those surgeries, I could not have become the successful athlete I am today; nor could I have competed at the level of the world cup. Pathology would have prevented it.

I look back at each operative process and see their worth because each one improved my quality of life. Still, all those moments proved painful and traumatic. I often felt exhausted and challenged sitting in a wheelchair, unable to do normal things with friends. I did enjoy being locked up, tending to myself. In the long run, though, sports proved to be my reward. I reflect now and know it was worth it.

Takes home the Dwarf Copa America trophy

Today, some of the discrimination I faced in life has begun to disappear. I once walked down the street and watched as people laughed at me or made derogatory comments without knowing me as a person. Earning a trophy with the Argentine team in the Cope América World Cup for people of short stature afforded me social recognition.

During the consecration, I fell on my knees in joy. Tears rolled down my face and onto the floor. I could feel the warmth of the tears escaping my eyes as I embraced the reward of my sacrifice and effort. I felt overwhelmed with happiness. Many things went through my head. I could barely fathom what I just achieved or how challenging the process had been. I remembered my family, friends, and the numerous hours I spent training to get to the tournament. 

I think every successful athlete bears superlative mental strength. An athlete not only deals with physical effort but also mental stress. The physical aspect coexists from the beginning, but the mental stress becomes difficult as we grow in status. The pressure, criticism, and scrutinization faced by a short athlete like me can be severe. Furthermore, success in professional sports remains uncommon. I had to learn to handle that and not get frustrated.

If years ago, someone told me I would play in a Copa América or a World Cup, I would not have believed it. When I see myself living this dream now, with my short height and history of experiencing discrimination, I feel strong. It encourages me to push myself and do more.

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Mariano Junco serves as a communicator and content manager. he began experimenting in 2004 at the age of 17. Between 2007 and today, he developed a national and international career in sports while training in journalism, communications, and politics. He currently works in digital, audiovisual, and graphic media. He is passionate about the world of amateur sports and the institutions that comprise it.