Flag bearing at Beijing Paralympics: life’s top honor

Hello everyone,
I’m here to share this experience that is up there as one of the highlights of my life.

First, before the races started, we learned we wouldn’t be attending the Opening Ceremony (besides 4 people from our Federation) because of Covid concerns. We were all shattered, as we felt like that was one of our rights as athletes. But we moved on.

Then we all raced, had an immense amount of fun, adrenalin, nerves, anxiety, all that comes with competing in the Paralympics. A handful of days before we leave, after my races are done, the Chef de Mission from Brasil calls me to his room; I go in and he’s straight to the point: “we were all surprised with your efforts and placing at the races. Because of that and other factors and your story we would like to invite you to carry the Flag at the Closing Ceremony.” My eyes welled up fast and I couldn’t say anything right away but I just stood up and gave him a tight hug! He asks “does that mean you accept it?” -Of course I do, would be an honor! This was all still a secret, they wanted to announce on national tv in 2 days, so I only told my family and we kept zipped. But back on my room’s balcony I screamed and cried of emotion!!

Day of the Ceremony is a bit of a blur, like a movie or an amazing dream. We catch the bullet train and some other buses, with volunteers helping us all the way there. The Bird’s Nest Stadium is beeaauuutiful, and it’s special going straight in its belly without any lines or too much waiting. The organization is awesome and the characters all dressed up and helping us, remarkable. They guide us all in to our posts, I am to be the second Country to enter, right after Ukraine. All is going well until they take us to this corridor and I see a box in the corner with 46 flags (number of nations in the Winter Games), right then I get emotional. When she puts the flag in my hands I just loose it and start crying my eyes out, completely soaking my mask! I cried for most of the parade, very emotional, very proud, very honored, beyond happy. I waved that flag as strong and as high as I could! What a feeling… how do you ever top that?! Then we sit and watch the majestic ceremony, a day I will never forget…

Carrying the flag meant so much to me, on some many levels. I had an inconclusive test the day before boarding to China, thought I was going to miss my 1st race because of quarantine (after so many years of work & sweat & $$) which thankfully didn’t happen. The fact we moved away from our dear Brasil, I never turned my back on my country, was simply looking for better opportunities, always kept it close to my heart. Then getting to represent my Country at the biggest sporting event on the planet and be chosen to carry the flag?! I just lack the words…

I’d like to thank my Federation for allowing me this great honor, I’m so proud and happy to be granted this opportunity!

BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 13: Flag bearer Andre Barbieri of Team Brazil waves their countries flag during the Closing Ceremony on day nine of the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics at Beijing National Stadium on March 13, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)