The incredible story of ‘la capitan’ of the Bat Girls’ team
Date: August 19, 2023
Category: Blind football
Gracia Sosa Barreneche is 33 years old, was born and still lives in Cordoba, Argentina, the birthplace of female blind football in the country, and she is the captain of the women’s national team, named ‘Las Murcielagas’, which means the bat girls team.
As the coach Gonzalo Abbas explained, almost every national sport team in Argentina has an animal nickname, so the men’s blind football team adopted the bat because at night they fly by their internal radar through sound.
Gracia is 1,48m tall but is a strength of nature. Born premature at seven months and blind, her path in life entirely dedicated to sport is an inspiration.
“I started at the age of three by riding horses, and I felt and broke my left arm a few days later. If I remember? Of course, it hurt”, she started to say. Probably, most of the children could get scared and never return to a horse again. Not Gracia. She has been a fighter all her life and proved right the traditional saying: What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger! “Of course I got back to the horse. That’s what I wanted to do, and I remained until I was 14!”
#Accessibility – Gracia is dribbling the ball on the right side of the image with the goalkeeper on the left side, and the photo was taken behind the goal net
At the age of 12, still in horse riding, she started with blind football, in the ADECICO club in Cordoba, but because there was not yet a team for women – it stayed so for many years – she joined the men’s team, where the current national women’s coach Gonzalo was a goalkeeper. She left a few months later and quit horseback riding to be fully dedicated to athletics (100 and 200m). It was the year 2004, and in 2005 she got a bronze medal in the 100m and a silver medal in the 200m in the Youth Para PanAmerican Games.
Paralympic Games for an ice cream
Gracia qualified for the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2007 at the Para PanAmerican Games in Rio de Janeiro with a bronze medal in 100m and a 4th place in 200m.
“When they told me that I was going to Beijing, I couldn’t believe it. My coach at the time, Javier Alvarez, just put me in training and running by saying that if I could reach a certain mark, he would buy me an ice cream, a promise that he never kept. I didn’t know that I could be on the edge of getting a qualification for the Paralympic Games, so it was a big surprise to me when I got it”.
Although she got to Beijing 20 days before the competition, she never got over the jet lag. “Every time I had to rest, I spent it sleeping. Even in the race, I was sleepy! I managed to finish 8th in the 200m.
To prepare for London, she moved from Cordoba to Buenos Aires and to the CENARD, the high performance centre, where she stayed for the next four years. “I got qualified for London 2012, but one month before the Paralympic Games, I was told that I hadn’t been called for the team. I had 5th place in the ranking, and they only took the first four. I confessed I was disappointed but didn’t give up. Rio 2016 was my next goal, but my guide changed and was way taller than me, and our team spirit didn’t work out, so I left athletics.
Rowing without wanting it
Without Gracia’s knowledge, her mother and the rowing coach at São Roque’s lake in Cordoba managed to get her to try. “I always said to my mom that I didn’t even want to try rowing, but on a Saturday morning, my mother woke me up and told me to get dressed, and I have to confess: from the moment I sat in a canoe, I stayed for four years. I really enjoyed it and also got two silver medals (2018 and 2019) in the South American Championships in the 2,000m distance.
In the meantime, in 2014, Gonzalo Abbas created the first women’s blind football club in Cordoba, “Las Guerreras de Cordoba”, The Warriors of Cordoba, and tried very hard for Gracia to be part of the project. She always said no.
#Accessibility – Gracia is on the right side of the pitch, dribbling two opponents, and the height difference between her and the rest of the players is notorious. Short but very, very talented!
Only in 2016, she decided to return to football for the joy of the coach. “I admit today that of all the sports I practised, football is my favourite”. Even then, her performance level was so much higher than the rest of the team that the coach asked her not to be so good in the training sessions so as not to take the motivation from the other players away.
“I picked her for captain because she leads by example”, said Gonzalo Abbas. “She is the captain of attitude; she puts everything on the pitch until the last second of the matches and is super professional in every way possible”, added.
The national team of Argentina is in this first edition of the Women’s Blind Football World Championships, trying to get the title. Although the internal goal is to reach the podium, the gold medal is not out of reach. Anyway, Gracia Sosa has new goals and has made a promise to the coach. “I already talked to my teammates, and we will stay together for the next five years. Me, Micaela, Florencia, Constanza, and Elene are keen to make it to LA 2028, which we hope will be the first Paralympic Games to have women’s Blind Football in the competition.
Gonzalo Abbas waved his head, agreeing with a big smile on his face.
Photo: Haruo Wanibe/IBF Foundation