As a boy, Joelison Fernandes was told hundreds of times that he should play basketball or volleyball. Currently 2.37m tall, the tallest man in Brazil really wanted to be able to choose the first option, but his city, small Assunção, in the hinterland of Paraíba, does not have any basketball court for its less than 5,000 inhabitants to practice. the sport.
Only today (3), at the age of 36, will Ninão, as he is known, make his debut as an athlete, in a sport he didn’t even know existed, and already looking forward to revolutionizing Brazil’s status in the international sitting volleyball scene. , an adaptation, for the Paralympic movement, of the traditional indoor volleyball.
The entire logic of seated volleyball is the same as in traditional volleyball, with the difference that athletes, who are physically handicapped, must remain seated on the floor, on a smaller court. In the impossibility of jumping, the attacker’s advantage over the block is proportional to how much his wingspan is greater than the wingspan of the person on the other side of the court.
This became even clearer after Iran came to rely on death Mehrzad, second tallest man in the world, standing at 2.46 m, even though one leg is 15 centimeters longer than the other — which makes him physically handicapped able to play seated volleyball. With him attacking almost every ball when he is in the net, Iran has won the last two Paralympics.
Just nine centimeters shorter, Ninão could be the key to taking Brazil to fight for gold in Paralympic volleyball, after two fourth places in Rio-2016 and Tokyo. “I didn’t know the story of this guy from Iran until I learned about sitting volleyball. Professor Fernando’s interest was this: to put my height to compete with him and if God allows at the Worlds, we’ll meet”, says Ninão.
Fernando, in this case, is Fernando Guimarães, coach of the Brazilian team and the team of Paulistano, from São Paulo. It was he who sought out Ninão and invited him to join the club and start training with the national team as soon as he had his first contact with a volleyball.
Born in the interior of Paraíba, Ninão worked as a poster boy for businesses in the region, using his height to attract the attention of customers. In December of last year, he had to amputate his right leg below the knee, due to osteomyelitis, an infectious disease that affects the bones. He had been in pain for years, and underwent surgery to have a better quality of life.
The operation was reported in the press and caught the attention of the coach of the seated volleyball team, since, with his leg amputated, Ninão is eligible for this Paralympic sport. Invited, he signed a professional contract with Paulistano and fell in love with the sport. “It was love at first sight,” he says.
The debut in sitting volleyball will be this Saturday, for the Campeonato Paulista, in a double round, with games between Paulistano against São José and Barueri. As the giant had no practice with volleyball, for now he is a reserve, but should be used during games. The idea is that, in the future, he will be the safety ball of the team and the Brazilian team, going over opponents’ blocks.
“That’s the intention, but for that I still have to train a lot, I still have a lot to learn”, recognizes the player, who is already summoned for the World Championship, which will take place in November in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The arrival of Ninão gave him a bigger boost, the team received him with great affection and it was visible that he liked it, this could be a watershed. We know it’s early, but he can help us”, commented the coach.