Santi’s grandparents traveled over 4,000 miles from Colombia so they could watch him compete here in Seattle at the USA Games.
In Santiago “Santi” Castro’s week at the 2018 USA Games, he’s not only had his fellow teammates and coaches to cheer him on as he represents Team Florida in tennis. He has also had a contingent of fans sporting “Team Santiago” T-shirts, waving red and blue pompoms, and shouting words of encouragement to him in both English and Spanish.
This group of 10, though an 11th is on the way, is Santi’s family — his mother and stepfather, his sister and brother-in-law, his brother and nephew, his stepbrother and step-grandmother, and his grandmother and grandfather. Most came to Seattle from Miami, but his grandparents traveled more than 4,000 miles from Colombia so they could watch Santi compete.
(And still, there were people missing — Santi’s father and girlfriend, for example, weren’t able to make the trip. Neither could his aunt, but she left her mark by creating the T-shirts that the entire family wears.)
As soon as Santi learned he would be playing in the USA Games, the family started planning their trip. Getting everyone from Miami, and Colombia, to Seattle was a must.
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“He’s the champion of the family,” said Santi’s grandmother, Ana Rivera. (Santi’s brother, Jose Castro, translated for her.)
While he might be the champion of the family, they’re the village that raised him. Each has been crucial in his journey.
In Santi’s early years, when he and his immediate family still lived in Colombia, his grandmother helped raise him, putting him through exercises and other activities that kept him stimulated. Now that Santi and his family live in the U.S., Ana gets to see her family around once a year, though she says it’s still incredibly hard to be apart.
She was close to tears when Jose won his singles match Wednesday afternoon.
“Estoy muy emocionada,” she said.
Santi’s older brother, Jose, is his role model. Growing up, Santi always wanted to play the sports that Jose played and now is thinking about working at Carnival, where his brother works. Santi was excited to have Jose’s 5-year-old son in Seattle to watch him play, too.
Ever since Santi’s stepfather, Avian Capo, started dating his mother, Avian, who played tennis when he was younger, he has worked with Santi to help him become a better tennis player, with a focus on improving his conditioning. He’ll take Santi to a court near their house to play and helps ensure he sticks to a healthy diet.
Santi’s family agrees that his mother, Liliana Bohorquez, has been the driving force. She was the one who pushed him to play sports — basketball, soccer and eventually tennis — alongside kids without disabilities. She always knew what he was capable of and would sign him up for sports without telling the coaches or anyone else that he had a disability.
Once people would find out, it wouldn’t even matter, because Santi was able to prove that he belonged there with everyone else. She says that the coach of the tennis team at Santi’s high school thought it was a joke when he signed up to join the team. He went on to play varsity for four years, was one of the four students who’d regularly play, and won an award for best varsity player.
Now tennis is an integral part of his life.
He has practice at least three times a week — in addition to Special Olympics events, he plays in adult-level USTA matches. He also does private workouts and conditioning with his stepfather.
Beyond his athletic achievements, he recently graduated at FIU through an inclusion program.
“I don’t put any limits on him,” Liliana said.
And at 22, she says he still has room to grow — in tennis and conditioning, but also in improving his speech through speech therapy.
“She’s the main star behind the scenes — trust me,” Jose said. “The work she has put behind this kid is inspiring.”
Santi’s family was relieved when he pulled out a come-from-behind, tiebreak victory in his singles match. Despite having to split up to watch the match, they came together to give him the biggest hugs when he came off the court.
“I feel happy,” Santi said about having so many family members there to cheer him on. “They are my family, and I love them.”