A recent unprecedented climate disaster has affected Brazil dramatically. Today, scientists consider that the catastrophe which is plaguing the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul is a combination of the effects of the natural phenomenon El Niño and those of global warming. In this very sad and complex context, Brazilian judoka brought some light in the dark, mobilising to help the victims of the floods.

Olympic and world medallists such as Mayra Aguiar, Daniel Cargnin and João Derly are from this region and are among the volunteers showing what great champions they are, both in judo and life.

The state of Rio Grande do Sul was hit by heavy rains that caused the biggest flood in the region's history, affecting more than 1.4 million people and leaving more than 232,000 people homeless. In addition, the floods caused 107 casualties and many more injuries, so far, according to official data.

The images shown on TV are impressive. Several cities have been submerged with water reaching 5 metres high. Roads were destroyed and Salgado Filho airport has been closed. The direct impact includes a supply crisis of clean water, electricity and food.

In the midst of the tragedy, many people were moved and a wave of solidarity generated donations including clothes, food and cleaning materials.

Top judoka including Alexia Castilhos, Eric Takabatake, Daniel Cargnin, Mayra Aguiar, Gabriel Genro, Jéssica Lima, Leonardo Gonçalves and many others joined the solidarity movement.

Alexia, Eric, Daniel and Gabriel have already raised funds through crowdfunding campaigns and are now purchasing supplies for those in shelters and on the front lines of rescues.

“My house was not hit, but the entire neighbourhood was invaded by water. We were without drinking water, electricity and cell phone signal for three days,” said Aléxia.

“The water reached the end of an overpass that is next to my house, so the rescues started there. They set up an HQ to provide first aid and take people to shelters. A lot of people arrived there, a lot of rescued animals as well and there was no system for transporting water or food for those who arrived. That's what we helped with,” she added.

The Grêmio Náutico União and Sogipa clubs, where several athletes trained daily, opened their gyms to receive homeless people and donations, becoming important support centres for victims.

It is in the Sogipa courtyard that athletes such as world champions João Derly and Mayra Aguiar have spent their days unloading trucks with tonnes of water and food donated from all over Brazil.

“Our work has been to receive and direct several donations to shelters and kitchens that are assisting both volunteers and those sheltered. Now we are extending it to more distant regions such as Lajeado, Estrela, Arroio do Meio, which were also destroyed. The river passed through the middle of the city. In the midst of all this, the athletes still train judo because there is the Abu Dhabi World Championships coming soon. I'm very proud of them,” reported two-time world champion João Derly.

The federation, young judoka and high-performance athletes are all involved, everyone donating whatever they can. Sometimes it’s just about welcoming people, hugging them and crying together. “It's very tiring but when we think about the people who are suffering, it gives us renewed energy so that we can continue helping those in need,” continued João Derly.

In Novo Hamburgo, judo teacher and former national team athlete Rafaela Nitz managed to organise a community kitchen with volunteers who have produced more than 3,000 lunch boxes daily.

Canoas, the hometown of Daniel Cargnin and Portuguese-Brazilian Rochele Nunes, was one of the most affected by the flooding. On her social media, Rochele, who lives in Portugal, reported that her mother lost the house where she lived. Together with the Brazilian community in Portugal, she is also collecting donations to send to Brazil.

A coach of the Brazilian team, Douglas Potrich, is housing 35 people in the Kiai Dojo, his judo academy, and raising funds for the reconstruction of houses.

Thos are just a few examples of the amazing mobilisation of the judo family in Brazil.

Thinking about the lost judo facilities, the Judo Federation of Rio Grande do Sul (FGJ) opened a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the reconstruction of academies and judo associations when the water recedes.

Furthermore, many judo teachers have offered free judo classes to children sheltered in the gymnasium of their sports training centres; a way to relieve stress and start rebuilding their life through sport.

As underlined by João Derly, many athletes still have to train and remain in condition for the final stretch of preparation for the upcoming world championships and Olympic Games. A large part of the Brazilian judo team lives in Porto Alegre. Jéssica Lima, Ketleyn Quadros, Mayra Aguiar, Daniel Cargnin, Rafael Macedo and Leonardo Gonçalves are among them. The Brazilian Judo Confederation has been monitoring their situation and facilitating the logistics for them to be able to travel to the competitions.

With the airport closed for an indefinite period and several roads interrupted by landslides and floods, there is only one route left from Rio Grande do Sul and that is where the judoka will pass. On 7th May, Ketleyn Quadros (-63kg) and Rafael Macedo (-90kg) travelled almost 500km by car to the city of Florianópolis, in the state of Santa Catarina, where they managed to fly to São Paulo to continue towards Kazakhstan, to compete in the Qazaqstan Barysy Grand Slam. Soon, the other judoka will follow the same route to reach the Abu Dhabi World Championships.

Regardless of the results on the mat, they show what great champions do and understand exactly what the Olympic spirit and the judo values mean.

Information on how to donate and contribute to the volunteering judoka follow them on Instagram:

Source and images: Confederação Brasileira de Judô

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