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  • I opened a blind man's head.

  • I didn't make him think or reflect -- I cracked his head open, literally.

  • We were walking with him holding onto my shoulder,

  • I miscalculated how much space there was between us,

  • and I knocked him into a gate.

  • (Laughter)

  • Five stitches in his forehead.

  • At that moment, I felt like the worst teacher in the world.

  • I really didn't know how to apologize.

  • Luckily, El Pulga is one of those people who takes things quite well.

  • And to this day, he says that I was the coach

  • who left the most important mark on his career.

  • (Laughter)

  • The truth is, when I started working at the institute for the blind,

  • I was surprised by a lot of things.

  • A lot of the things they did, I never imagined they could:

  • they swam, did exercise, played cards.

  • They drank mate, and could pour it

  • without burning themselves in the process.

  • But when I saw them playing soccer --

  • that was amazing.

  • They had a dirt field, rusty goalposts and broken nets.

  • The blind who attended the institute would play their games there,

  • just like I did at a field near my house.

  • But they played without being able to see.

  • The ball made a sound so they could locate it.

  • They had a guide behind the rival team's goal

  • to know where to kick the ball.

  • And they used eye masks.

  • There were guys who could still see a little,

  • and they wore eye masks so everyone was equal.

  • When I was more at ease with them, I asked for a mask myself.

  • I put it on and tried to play.

  • I had played soccer all my life.

  • This is where it got even more amazing:

  • within two seconds, I didn't know where I was standing.

  • I had studied physical education because I loved high performance.

  • I started working at the institute by chance.

  • My other job was with the Argentinian National Rowing Team,

  • and I felt that was my thing.

  • Here, everything was twice as hard.

  • I'll never forget the first day I did the warm-up with the team.

  • I lined them up in front of me --

  • I used to do that with the rowing team --

  • and I said, "OK, everyone bend down," going like this.

  • When I looked up, two guys were seated,

  • three were lying down and others were squatting.

  • (Laughter)

  • How could I do here the same things I was doing there?

  • It took me a while.

  • I started looking for tools to learn from them,

  • from the teachers who worked with them.

  • I learned I couldn't explain a play on a chalkboard like a coach does,

  • but I could use a plastic tray and some bottle caps

  • so they could follow me by way of touch.

  • I also learned they could run on a track

  • if I ran with them, holding a rope.

  • So we started looking for volunteers to help us run with them.

  • I was enjoying it,

  • and finding purpose and meaning in what we were doing.

  • It was hard at first, it was uncomfortable,

  • but I decided to overcome the discomfort.

  • And there came a time

  • when it became the most fascinating job I'd ever had.

  • I think that's when I wondered:

  • Why couldn't we be a high-performance team as well?

  • Of course, one thing was missing:

  • I needed to find out what they wanted,

  • the real protagonists of this story.

  • Three hours of training, playing soccer on that field,

  • were not going to be enough.

  • We would have to train differently.

  • We started to train harder, and the results were great;

  • they asked for more.

  • I came to understand that they, too, wondered

  • why they couldn't do high-performance.

  • When we felt ready, we knocked at CENARD's door.

  • CENARD is the National Center for High-Performance Sports

  • here in Argentina.

  • It was hard to get them to hear what we had to say.

  • But it was considerably more difficult

  • to get the other athletes training there to consider us their equals.

  • In fact, they would let us use the field

  • only when no other teams were using it.

  • And we were known as "the blind ones."

  • Not everyone knew exactly what we were doing there.

  • The 2006 World Championship was a turning point in the team's history.

  • It was held in Buenos Aires for the first time.

  • It was our chance to show everyone

  • what we had been doing all that time.

  • We made it to the finals.

  • We were growing as a team.

  • It was us against Brazil in the finals.

  • They were the best team in the tournament.

  • They won every game by a landslide.

  • Hardly anyone believed we could win that game.

  • Hardly anyone -- except for us.

  • During pre-game meetings,

  • in the locker room,

  • during each warm-up,

  • it smelled of victory.

  • I swear that smell exists.

  • I smelled it several times with the team,

  • but I remember it in particular, the day before we played that final.

  • The Argentine Football Association had opened their doors to us.

  • We were training at AFA,

  • where Verón, Higuain and Messi trained.

  • For the first time ever,

  • we felt like a true national team.

  • At 7:30pm, the day before the game,

  • we were in the lounge discussing strategy,

  • and a waiter knocks on the door, interrupting our conversation.

  • He suggested we go to church.

  • He came to invite us to church.

  • I tried to get rid of him, saying it wasn't a good time,

  • that we better leave it for another day.

  • He kept insisting, asking me to please let him take the guys to church,

  • because that day, a pastor who performed miracles would be there.

  • I was slightly afraid to ask what type of miracles he meant,

  • and he replied nonchalantly,

  • "Coach, let me take the team to the church,

  • and when we return, I guarantee that half of them will be able to see."

  • (Laughter)

  • Some of the guys laughed,

  • but imagine being a blind person and someone says that to you.

  • I didn't know what to say.

  • I said nothing; it was an awkward silence.

  • I didn't want to make him feel bad,

  • because he truly believed this could happen.

  • One of the players saved me,

  • when he stood up and confidently said,

  • "Juan," -- that was the kid's name --

  • Gonza already told you it's not the best time to go to church.

  • Besides, let me make this clear:

  • if we go to that church, and I end up being able to see when we return,

  • I will beat you so hard if I can't play tomorrow."

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Juan left, laughing in resignation,

  • and we continued with our pregame talk.

  • That night when I went to sleep,

  • I began to dream about the next day's game,

  • imagining what could happen, how we would play.

  • And that's when I noticed that smell of victory

  • I mentioned a while ago.

  • And it's because at that moment, I thought:

  • if the other players had the same desire as Diego going into the game,

  • it was impossible for us not to win.

  • The next day was going to be wonderful.

  • We got up at 9am, the game was at 7pm,

  • and we were already eager to play.

  • We left AFA, and the bus was full of flags that people had given to us.

  • We were talking about the game,

  • and we could hear people honking and cheering,

  • "Go Murciélagos! Today's the day! The final challenge!"

  • The guys asked me, "Do they know us? Do they know we're playing?"

  • Some people followed the bus to CENARD.

  • We arrived and found an amazing scene.

  • In the corridor leading from the locker room to the game field,

  • I was walking with Silvio,

  • who was holding onto my shoulder, so I could guide him.

  • Fortunately, there were no gates along the way.

  • (Laughter)

  • When we reached the field, he asked me about everything.

  • He didn't want to miss a single detail.

  • He said, "Tell me what you see, tell me who's playing the drums."

  • I tried to explain what was happening with as much detail as possible.

  • I told him, "The stands are packed, a lot of people couldn't get in,

  • there are blue and white balloons all over the field,

  • they're opening a giant Argentine flag that covers the entire grandstand."

  • Suddenly, he cuts me off and says,

  • "Do you see a flag that says 'San Pedro'?"

  • That's the city where he lives.

  • I started looking into the stands

  • and I spotted a little white flag

  • with lettering done in black spray paint, that read:

  • "Silvio, your family and all of San Pedro are here."

  • I told him that and he replied,

  • "That's my mom, tell me where she is, I want to I wave at her."

  • I pointed him toward the flag

  • and showed him with his arm where they were sitting,

  • and he waved his arms in that direction.

  • About 20 or 30 people stood up and gave him an ovation.

  • When that happened,

  • I saw how his face changed, how moved he was.

  • It was moving for me, too;

  • two seconds later, I had a lump in my throat.

  • It was strange -- I felt both the excitement of what was happening,

  • and the anger and the anguish that he could not see it.

  • A few days later when I told him what I had experienced,

  • he tried to reassure me, saying,

  • "Gonza, don't feel bad, I could see them.

  • Differently, but I swear to you that I saw them all."

  • The game started.

  • We could not fail; it was the final.

  • The audience was quiet, like here,

  • because in soccer for the blind,

  • the public has to be quiet so the players can hear the ball.

  • They're only allowed to cheer when the game is over.

  • And when there were eight minutes to go,

  • the crowd did all the cheering they hadn't done in the first 32 minutes.

  • When pigeon-toed Silvio nailed the ball at an angle,

  • they cheered with all their heart,

  • in an incredible way.

  • Today, if you go to CENARD, you'll see a huge poster on the door,

  • with a photo of our team, Los Murciélagos.

  • They're a model national team, everyone in CENARD knows who they are,

  • and after having won two World Championships

  • and two Paralympic medals,

  • no one doubts they are high-performance athletes.

  • (Applause)

  • (Applause ends)

  • I was lucky to train this team for 10 years,

  • first as a trainer and later as their coach.

  • I feel that they've given me much more

  • than what I've given them.

  • Last year, they asked me to coach another national team, Power Soccer.

  • It's a national team of young men who play soccer in wheelchairs.

  • They use motorized wheelchairs that they drive with a joystick,

  • because they don't have enough strength in their arms

  • to use conventional chairs.

  • They added a bumper to the chair, a safeguard that protects their feet,

  • while allowing them to kick the ball.

  • It's the first time that, instead of being the spectators,

  • they're now the main characters.

  • It's the first time their parents, friends and siblings can see them play.

  • For me, it's a new challenge,

  • with the same discomfort, insecurity, and fear I had

  • when I started working with the blind.

  • But I approach it all from a more experienced position.

  • That's why from day one, I treat them as athletes on the field,

  • and off the field, I try to put myself in their shoes

  • and behave without prejudice,

  • because treating them naturally feels best to them.

  • Both teams play soccer; something once unthinkable for them.

  • They had to adapt the rules to do so.

  • And both teams broke the same rule --

  • the one that said they couldn't play soccer.

  • When you see them play, you see competition, not disability.

  • The problem starts when the game is over,

  • and they leave the field.

  • Then they step in to play our game,

  • in a society whose rules don't really take them into account