Paralyzed and fighting depression, she turned to archery and became a world champ

I woke up underwater and I tried to move my arms slowly, but they did not respond. Panicked, I swallowed so much water, I fainted again.

  • 1 year ago
  • February 4, 2023
5 min read
Albina Yamila Torres photographed at the Parapan American Games held in Chile where she won second place. Albina Yamila Torres photographed at the Parapan American Games held in Chile where she won second place. | Photo courtesy of the Albina Yamila Torres team
Interview Subject
Albina Yamila Torres is a competitive adapted archery player from San Luis. She placed second in the Santiago 2022 Pan and Para Pan American Championships. During a water accident, she broke her spine and became paralyzed. After suffering from depression, she turned to archery and found her new purpose.
Background Information
Although Paralympic archery originally existed to rehabilitate people with physical disabilities, it soon became a competitive sport. The goal is to shoot arrows as close as possible to the center of a target that measures 48 inches in diameter. The athletes are located at a distance of 70 meters and must hit the central part, which is only 12.2 centimeters wide, in order to score 10 points. Archery is one of the historical sports within the Paralympic movement. Already played in the first Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948, it has been part of the Paralympic Games program in all its editions.

SAN LUIS, Argentina — After my accident, the world closed in on me. Everything changed forever. Through archery, I found a community and sense of purpose. At 18 years old, I went swimming my family. My blood pressure dropped, and I fell into the water. [The impact against a sandbar broke the sixth vertebra of the cervical spine, and I became a quadriplegic.] Eventually, I regained use of my arms. Today, I am a Pan American Archery Champion.

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I panicked underwater, unable to move

The accident that changed my life occurred 13 years ago but remains engrained in my mind. I just finished high school and turned 18. After enrolling in a university architecture course in San Juan, I wanted to spend my last weekend in San Luis with my family. My 10 siblings and I went to the river.

My sister watched as I dove into the water. She wanted to try it, so I showed her how and positioned myself to help. Right at that moment, my blood pressure dropped. I fell into the water on a sandbank, unable to move, and lost consciousness.

I woke up underwater and I tried to move my arms slowly, but they did not respond. Panicked, I swallowed so much water, I fainted again. My family rescued me and took me to the hospital. On route, my mother began feeling nauseous. Pregnant and under great stress, she went into early labor.

At the hospital, the doctor approach and touched my spinal cord. I felt nothing. He informed my family; I was a quadriplegic. A wave of shock and terror overtook me. What would my life become? What could I do? 

I attended a rehabilitation center in Mendoza, Argentina, where I remained hospitalized for six months. I recovered the use of my right and left arms. However, my lower extremities remained paralyzed.

Archery pulled me out of a deep depression

After months of rehabilitation, I traveled back to San Luis to start college, but faced many difficulties. I had no means of transportation and cost of an assistant to help with my care remained too high. A year in, I dropped out and fell into depression. I never wanted to leave the house again.

Relying on others to carry me places and lift me up, I felt angry and useless. I isolated myself for days on end. Slowly, I returned to college and started teaching mathematics. I kept it up for a year but became fatigued and mentally drained. Eventually, I met my boyfriend David through Facebook. He lived through a motorcycle accident a few years prior, so he understood my condition. We connected right away.

Albina Yamila Torres tried the altered version of a classic recurve bow, the compound bow. 
| Photo courtesy of the Albina Yamila Torres team

He belonged to a chair-basketball team and invited me to participate. I felt nervous about getting back into sports. The team told me to try going from my home to the club in the wheelchair whenever I could. That toned my muscles and gave me confidence. They had a bunch of different sports they altered specially for us. I tried table tennis, adapted diving, and adapted archery. Archery intrigued me the most.

Our coach Rebeca offered us lessons for three days to test our skills. She gave me a compound bow. I never used a compound bow before. I only knew the classic recurve. She told me to train for a month, and then tested me from different distances. Afterwards, she asked me to join the team. She put together a training plan for me to do at home. I felt ecstatic, like I could take on the world.

Competing for the gold 

We headed towards Santiago de Chile, where the Parapan American games took place. I experienced flying for the first time. I looked forward to meeting more people like me, in the same condition. As an international archery competition, I also met people from all over the world. The competition had two sections: conventional archery and paralympic archery.

I competed against Mariela López Carrasco from Chile and Lisa Coryell from the United States. We shot a total of 36 arrows in a series of six. At first, I felt nervous and missed the majority of them. Then, with the fifth arrow, I hit number six and qualified. I rejoiced in pride. The confidence that moment gave me helped me compete better. I completed the rest of the series perfectly. 

The Argentine National Archery team photographed together at the Parapan American Games. | Photo courtesy of Albina Yamila Torres

By the end of the competition, I placed second at 121 to 74. I walked to the podium at the awards ceremony carrying the flag of my country. People often ask why I never cried in that moment. To be honest, after my accident, sadness and crying filled my days. I never allowed myself to feel any other emotion. I grew tired of that, and today, I only seek happiness. 

The bow and arrow changed my life. Amidst my sadness, something bigger awaited me. I never would have imagined this life after my accident. This sport allowed me to regain a sense of self. I gained a community, and never felt alone since. I feel full of love and excitement for the future.

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