With tremendous dignity, Greek sailing champion Sophia Bekatorou entered the Maracanã Olympic Stadium last night to officially open the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was the first athlete in the stadium, representing her nation of Greece— the honored “first nation” at all modern Olympics.
But behind the smile and poise was a story of struggle, personal tragedy and a road to Rio that has been riddled with distractions, enough to throw most people off course.
Bekatorou, despite having won two Olympic Medals— including a Gold in 2004 and numerous world championships, has been forced to subsidize her own training and expenses, due to funding cuts in Greek athletics.
Add to that a family tragedy— Sophia lost her beloved sister Varia to a malignant form of brain cancer in 2015, right in the middle of an intense training and competition schedule.
The easiest thing would have been for Bekatorou to step away and spend time with her ailing sister, who had been living in Munich at the time before her passing. But she was resilient and continued training and competing, and simultaneously being by her sister even until the end.
She and her sailing partner Michalis Pateniotis set up an Indiegogo campaign to support their expenses associated with competing in the Olympic Nacra 17 sailing races.
They are relying on the generosity of people throughout the world who wish to see Greece remain competitive in athletic competition.
Sophia explained in an interview with Sailing World that she’s persisting, despite all of these difficulties, first in honor of her late sister and second, for all of the people who have thus far, placed their belief in her by supporting her efforts in the fundraising campaign.
“During this campaign we have suffered from many personal difficulties and problems,” explained Bekatorou. “The past year I lost my sister and I think that was a very dominant feeling that I had all this time. The reason that I’m not giving up is because first I would like to fight in the honour of my sister and second is because all of these people who have helped and all of these athletes and coaches that invested in our team, I believe deserve to get the best out of it. It will be an honour to represent Greece this time. It’s going to be my fourth Olympics as an athlete and fifth in general. We will try and do the best we can as a team.”