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 Giusy Versace: “Perdendo le gambe ho scoperto di avere una testa forte e nuove opportunità”

Giusy Versace: “head and new opportunities”

by Monica Landro

Written by Monica Landro

Giusy Versace, who became known for her career in Paralympic athletics, was the first Italian athlete to run with a double amputation. She has competed in numerous international competitions, including the Paralympic Games. She has achieved numerous successes and represented Italy in various sporting events. Versace is also known in Italy for her involvement in politics, social work, and your constant focus on promoting awareness about the importance of sports for people with disabilities.

There was a turning point in your life, the 22nd of August 2005, the day you had your terrible accident. What kind of girl were you before this date?
Adrenalinic, positive and hyperactive, exactly as I am now. I was already a sportswoman but I wasn’t an athlete, which is a big difference. I used to do spinning, aerobics, but I didn’t run because it was an outdoor sport and I hate the cold so I could never have imagined getting into this sport. You see how things change.

Can we say that sport has contributed to the process of acceptance and a new lifestyle?
Not of acceptance because I didn’t need sport to accept me in this new condition. I had the accident in 2005 and started running in 2010, many years later. The passion for running was born by chance and also a bit of a challenge. I met guys who did sports and out of curiosity I would go and watch their races. Gradually I began to consider running but I needed special legs, carbon, with a tongue. It wasn’t so easy to get them in those years and they also told me that I didn’t have the body of an athlete anyway, that I could fall, so everyone discouraged me a little bit.

I was bothered by the idea that they could discourage a person with a disability from doing sport! So the Calabrian in me came out and I said NO!

Now it has become a matter of principle, I run! I found a coach who patiently transformed me from a leaping duck into a true athlete in my head, in the way I think, live and eat. In this sense it has become my new way of life and has made me stronger and more aware.

Giusy Versace: “Perdendo le gambe ho scoperto di avere una testa forte e nuove opportunità”With your head and heart you go everywhere’ is a beautiful, motivational sentence, but also the title of your first book…
I remember that I had a lot to argue with Mondadori about this title because they told me that it was better only with the head and the heart and I replied, “Yes, but with the head and the heart what?” You go wherever you want, wherever your heart takes you….

And in fact you went, and won, on Dancing with the Stars
Can you believe it? I won a competition where my legs are the protagonist, me who doesn’t have them. Paradoxical!!

And how did you do that?
I had to work a lot on coordination and balance and I have to say that maybe I arrived at Dancing with the Stars at the right moment when I was physically ready to put on my heels again, which I had never worn before that moment, so I got excited, I cried. Consider that when Milly Carlucci called me, she was after me for a month because I didn’t want to go…

Why didn’t you want to go?
First of all, I was training for the world championships and to participate in the programme I would have had to reschedule a lot of things. Besides, we are talking about a programme that airs on Saturday evenings on Rai Uno, watched by millions of people. Would I have been able to dance? I didn’t want people to see me as the disabled person trying to do the improbable. The risk of making a bad impression was great. But Milly convinced me that this was the real challenge. In the end I accepted. Not only that: I won!

Your willpower, your determination, your head made you make great progress, even though you had no legs to help you…
But indeed, with your head and heart you go everywhere. I, losing my legs, discovered that I have a strong head, a clean heart, I mean capable of love, because when you are touched by such strong pains in life as the one that happened to me, you see everything again.

Giusy Versace: “Perdendo le gambe ho scoperto di avere una testa forte e nuove opportunità”Do you have faith in God?
I have great faith and it is she who saved me, in the sense that she gave me the chance to realise that I had a new opportunity anyway.When I woke up from the coma, I did not cry because I no longer had two legs, I cried from emotion because I had a beating heart, a reasoning head. Of course, it was a long journey, not easy, but I was confident.

“Everything contributes to the good for those who love God,” said St Paul. Even in tragedy, everything ultimately contributes to the good?
It always depends on how you interpret things. When I had my accident, I said to myself, ‘If it happened to me, there must be a reason. We don’t know now in this life, but let’s make sense of it’.  And so in 2011 I founded the Disabili No Limits Onlus, a non-profit association set up to give all people with disabilities a more autonomous life by donating aids that, to date, are not provided for by the National Health System. It organises events to promote the practice of sport and to enable, especially young people, to live their disability to the fullest by looking at sport as therapy and a new opportunity for life. I also move with the same intent in politics.

Are you referring to the Law you had included in the legislative decrees of the Sports Reform?
Yes, in 2020 my proposal for a law calling for equal opportunities and equal rights for Paralympic athletes belonging to military and civilian sports groups was included in one of the five legislative decrees of the Sports Reform, resulting in Delegated Law 86/2019.

Giusy Versace: “Perdendo le gambe ho scoperto di avere una testa forte e nuove opportunità”

You are involved on several fronts: you are promoter of the exhibition ‘The Walls of Silence’, which aims to concretely help women who suffer violence.
I have been working on this issue for more than ten years and since I live with responsibility the tasks they give me, being inside the institutions

as a Member of Parliament, I have important tools in my hand, which are to keep the spotlight on issues that many do not think are priorities, to change the rules,

to be able to contribute to allocate more contributions to allow women victims of violence to rebuild their lives. The project ‘I Muri del Silenzio’ (Walls of Silence) takes a photographic exhibition around with known and lesser-known faces covering their eyes, ears or mouths as if to emphasise that you become an accomplice to violence if you pretend not to see, not to hear and not to speak.

How many things do you do? You are Wonder Giusy!
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you say that… you are referring to my book ‘Wonder Giusy’!!!

Exactly. How was it born?
It is an illustrated story for children and was created because a child suggested it to me. He was watching me train and told everyone that he knew Wonder Giusy, this superhero, who changes legs, runs and wins. I was so struck by the genuineness of this child who did not see what I lacked, but what I was able to do with my fake legs, that I wanted to write this book precisely to offer children more tools to help them grow, also with a more inclusive and respectful attitude towards others.

You are truly an ever-erupting volcano!  Can you give me three dry adjectives to describe you?
Generous, stubborn and definitely cheerful. Even when I have bad days, I always find a reason to smile, to face things positively and cheerfully, so I am definitely generous, definitely stubborn and definitely cheerful.

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