Camila Pirelli (Paraguay), National Track & Field Athlete (Heptathlon)
Mentor: Gwen Conley, VP and Group Media Coordinator, RPA
Camila Pirelli was born to be an athlete. Raised in the town of Ayolas, Paraguay, near the border with Argentina, her father was a former basketball player while her mother was a pentathlon champion. With a passion and affinity for sport in her blood, Camila became a champion figure skater and swimmer by the time she was a teenager. But, at the age of 16, she discovered her life’s true calling.
A track and field coach from the capital, Asuncion, saw Camila practicing outside and believed she was a future record-breaker in the making. The coach immediately talked to her mother and told her, “I’m going to make your girl a South American champion in 10 months.”
The prediction came true when Camila won her first gold medal at the South American Youth Championships in 2006. Since then, she has gone on to achieve several Paraguayan records in track and field, as well as win gold in both the Bolivarian Games and South American Games.
In 2007, Camila was offered a sports scholarship to attend Oral Roberts University. Even while balancing school and her athletics career, she excelled. Camila set the university record in indoor and outdoor pentathlon, and javelin throw. In 2012, she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology was named an Athlete of Excellence as the highest academic performer among student-athletes.
Despite her success in the classroom and on the track, Camila has regularly battled injury and recently missed out on competing in the Rio Olympics after her 2014 season was interrupted by a severe shoulder injury. She chooses not to be discouraged, though, as she believes sport teaches how to cope with failure and still persevere.
“On the track, there are moments when your body or mind want you to stop and you have to fight against it” Camila says. “I always compare life to a hurdle race. When you get past one challenge, you are happy. But you have another one right in front of you. Sport teaches you to fight and embrace the journey ahead.”
Many women in Paraguay are victims to the mentality of helplessness. The culture of machismo means that women are subject to violence and discrimination. In the outskirts of Asuncion, where the poor live in shantytowns, high rates of domestic violence and criminality disproportionately affect women. And while there are prominent women in politics, there is still this idea across the country that women are best suited for motherhood or domestic jobs, such as housekeeping.
“There aren’t conversations with girls about becoming professionals,” Camila says. “If you are 30 years old and don’t have a family you are considered a failure by society. Because of this mentality there is no hunger for change no dreams for girls to achieve greatness.”
Camila refuses to accept this limitation for herself and feels a passion for sharing this message with girls throughout Paraguay. The platform for this message is her own success as an athlete and female icon. She previously volunteered with the NGO Serving Paraguay to teach track and field to children and has worked directly with the Minister of Sports to allow children between the ages of 8 and 10 to train alongside her.