The year was 2007. I was dancing around the living room and trying to do (very dangerous) tricks on the couch. The Pan-American Games were playing on TV. And a girl dressed in Brazil’s national colors was competing in gymnastics. Daiane dos Santos, at the time 24 years old, helped the Brazilian team win the silver medal. For years after that, I would play with a silver medal, pretending that I was winning competitions. Even if I wasn’t an athlete, the medal symbolized that it was possible for me to achieve anything I wanted.

The medal that I watched her winning was actually not her first. Born on February 10, 1983 in Porto Alegre, Daiane has an impressive career in gymnastics. At the 1999 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, she got two medals: a bronze in the teams competition, and a silver in the vault. And she was only getting started. In 2003, she was the first Brazilian to win a gold medal in the World Championship when she was the floor apparatus champion. About the same time, two gymnastic movements got Daiane’s name. She was the first ever athlete to achieve the Double Arabian Piked (Dos Santos I) and the Double Arabian layout (Dos Santos II).

And she continued making history. In 2004, she was part of the first ever complete Brazilian women’s team to compete in the Olympics. Although they did not win any medals that year, the team put their heart and spirit into the competition. Additionally, Daiane was the first ever black athlete to win the World Championship. She was an inspiration to many girls who were not used to being represented in a sport like gymnastics. An increasing number of black girls joined gymnastics after she won the championship in 2003. The fact that she won her space in the sport gave other girls the confidence to also follow their dreams and start competing.

Now, many other Brazilian gymnasts have competed in championships around the world. As the world watched the Tokyo Olympics, Brazil got its first Olympic medal in gymnastics. Rebeca Andrade, a 22-year-old athlete from Sao Paulo, got a silver medal in the women’s all-around competition. Then she got gold in the vault. At first, all Brazilians I knew were in shock: how is this our first ever medal in the Olympics? Didn’t Daiane dos Santos win? She had not, in fact, to everyone’s shock, won any medals in the Olympics. Rebeca Andrade was the first one. Yet, Daiane dos Santos was part of her victory somehow. Days after the competition in Tokyo, a video circulated on the internet. In the video, Rebeca Andrade is watching Daiane dos Santos train. She mentions how happy she is that professional athletes are training with her team. 

After watching this video, I realized I was not the only one inspired by Daiane dos Santos as a little girl. After her, many girls — gymnasts or not — gained the courage to follow their dreams. Thus, I can say with pride that Daiane dos Santos is one of my childhood heroines.

-Carolina Novaes
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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