“I do not care if I walk again, what matters is that I am alive,” says Antonis Tsapatakis, the Paralympic athlete that has proudly represented Greece in many international competitions.
The famous swimmer from Crete discovered his passion for swimming at the age of 5, and since then has taken part in numerous international sports events and has won various medals for Greece.
His strength, passion and determination led him to the London Paralympics in 2012 and the Rio Paralympics in 2016 where he won the 4th place in the 100 metres front SB4.
In 2015, Antonis broke the European record and won the silver medal at the International Paralympic Committee World Swimming Championships in Glasgow.
In a recent interview with mylittlestories.gr Antonis described his journey in the world of sports and how the tragic events in his life made him who he is today, driving him to the sport of swimming and to becoming a better athlete.
Antonis Tsapatakis started training at the public pool of Chania, on the island of Crete, and at the age of 12, he became a water polo athlete of the Chania Nautical Club, winning several awards in both swimming and water polo.
In 2005, he was successfully admitted to the Greek Police Academy to follow a career as a policeman.
A year later, in December 2006, just outside the pool where he had spent half his life training, he lost control of his motorcycle and had tragic accident which resulted in paralysis of his lower limbs.
“I do not remember much at all from the day of the accident. My memory has erased it all, obviously because of the shock,” Antonis explained.
“The doctor who performed the operation on me was the one who told me that I will need to use a wheelchair to move from now on. The doctor was cynical with me, but in the end, I think it had to be that way. His purpose was to make me accept my new situation.”
Less than 9 months after the accident, determined not to give up, Antonis returned to the place he knew the best: the swimming pool.
“What drove me back to swimming was the need to be independent. After a year of training I felt right at home again in the swimming pool,” Antonis said.
Soon enough, in 2009, he started swimming for the Greek sports club for people with disabilities called “Megalonisos” (trans: big island), and it quickly became obvious that Antonis treated the paralysis in his legs as an opportunity for a new life.
Out of all of his achievements, Antonis says that he remembers most vividly his 2015 medals in Scotland.
“I set two pan-European records on the same day, one in the 50m front and one in the 100m front. I reached the final and came second in the world championship.”
Among many other achievements in sports, Antonis also managed to conquer another dream of his and in 2017 he became an Officer of EL.AS (Elliniki Astinomia, the Greek Police).
“In 2006, after the accident, I could no longer work for the Police because the rules require officers to be able-bodied. The dream to put on the police uniform again lasted 11 whole years.
"It took a lot of effort and a lot of failures to be able to put on my police-wear again in 2017, as a police officer in the Sports Service of the Greek Police.
"I am really proud of that because I did it alone, without anyone's help, without the mediation of anyone. My inspiration was the idea itself and the belief in myself.”
In 2018, Antonis was promoted to an Officer of the Hellenic Police, proving his will and passion strong enough to surpass any mobility difficulties.
“Because of my Paralympic and world achievements in swimming, I have proved to myself and to everyone that I believe that the struggle for the realization of our dreams is won only by a means that never fails. The name of this means is 'SOUL',” Antonis emphasized.
“In every challenge that I face, I never think that I cannot do it, instead I always ask myself why not do it?” he added.
Talking about how the motorcycle accident shaped his character today, Antonis opined; “The character of each person is built from the education he receives from his home and from the situations he experiences growing up.
"So, the accident played this role too, but the strength and perseverance I had learned from a young age were what kept me upright.
He continued; “Those around us also influence who we are and that is why we should choose them very carefully. We must make sure we have people by our side who influence us positively, people who want us to evolve,” he stressed.
Talking about his wish to walk again, Antonis confessed that “I have definitely dreamed of the day I could walk again. They say that if dreams are beautiful and you like them, you should pursue them, try to make them come true. I will definitely try for this dream of mine, as well as for the others, however, not to walk again does not matter so much, what matters is that I live, so all is well.”
Antonis has also appeared as a motivational speaker in various events across Greece, including those of TEDx and the University of Crete.
“In all my speeches, the only thing I want to show is that no matter what happens in our lives, we can still dream.”
“I was a very lively child. At 18 I was terribly unruly, I was actually so vain that a bad moment had to happen to make me understand and realize who I was. All the lights were on me.
"I was a good athlete with distinctions, a nice kid, with girls chasing me, cars, money, and I thought all of that was important in life, until at some point I fell. I fell into darkness. Imagine it as the bottom of the sea. An absolute darkness without anything.
"And then, through the accident I realized that in life what’s most important is to have few good things that matter to you.”
📷: @tsapatakis_a official Instagram page
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