Overcoming obesity and becoming a champion weightlifter, in search for sponsors, Josélia Oliveira was told they wouldn’t support her because “blacks don’t sell”



Note from BW of Brazil: It’s always great to see people overcoming obstacles and fighting their place in the sun even when there are those who want to throw shade at them. In today’s post, we continue our occasional foray into the area of sports and athletes as we share how a woman’s declining health and a doctor’s warning led her to a whole new hobby and career. But as in nearly every other area of Brazilian society, her ascension was not free of racism. How many times have we heard the idea that black invisibility on television, magazine covers, etc. is due to the belief that “blacks don’t sell”? Shameful because it reflects the racist stance of not only sponsors but the society at large.

But then, we knew that already, right? 

Weight lifting: “They said they would not support me because black doesn’t sell”

Courtesy of Flor da Cor

Josélia Oliveira 3

Josélia Oliveira, 35, has a paused, well articulated voice, is sweet in her speech and fierce in her attitudes. Before reaching 30 she passed 100 kilograms, was hypertensive, with heart problems and on track for a premature end as she entered grade two obesity (of a maximum of three). With urgent medical recommendations to change her life, Josélia obeyed promptly and, among other things, included sport in her life. Walking? Swimming? Running? Not at all. Weight lifting.

“I started doing weight training with a little fear and shame, but when I completed two months I had lost 12 kilos (26.5 lbs)! I was so excited I continued training and then I got called to train more seriously and competing. I didn’t stop anymore. Today we have a strict routine to prepare for the championships.

Josélia's weight problem led her to weight training
Josélia’s weight problem led her to weight training

 The administration student, who with the practice of sport moved to for physical education, faces an hour and a half every day to leave her Rio neighborhood of Senador Camará to reach the Aline Campeiro Olympic School of Weightlifting in Engenho Novo; she struggles to remain competitive and in her class – up to 60 kilos – and has collected titles of Brazilian champion of bench press and state champion in power lifting, among others.

Josélia, like many, has always had to deal with racism, but in the phase in which she was overweight she also had to face the rejection of being obese and, since she started lifting, feels prejudice against women who do a “man’s sport”. Added to all this, the stigma that surrounds the sport: doping.

Josélia Oliveira 4

“We have a very intense workout routine. The performance is due to the discipline in practice,  repetition, eating and the orderly life. Doping exists in all sports, but not the way people think and are not all athletes. Again the unknown generates prejudices. They still associate strength with only men. We, women practitioners, heard a lot of unpleasant and sexist things. They always associate us to homosexuality, as if this were some demerit. But we ignore it and move on. These ideas will only be broken with more information. Sport is for humans. There is no this sport for man, for woman … Everyone can. There is no limit. One has only to identify with the activity, surround themselves in health care and get started. It doesn’t matter the age, color, anything.

In such sporting times, when Brazil hosted the World Cup, is about to be the location of the Olympics and that this year had in Toronto, Canada, its first female Pan American medals in Weightlifting (two bronzes with Jaqueline Ferreira and Bruna Piloto) the search for sponsorship remains the Achilles heel of most athletes, but if that competitor is a woman and this woman is black …

Josélia Oliveira 1

“In a nutrition event, which happens regularly here in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, I was talking to some companies and one of them I heard that it wouldn’t be worth sponsoring me because “preto não vende” (black doesn’t sell). The response was very offensive and I know that’s what many companies think. The (training) material is expensive, there’s travel … It’s very hard to get support. We have an additional challenge because racism exists. This makes a lot of athletes give up because it’s difficult to afford. I manage to maintain myself in the sport because I have the help of friends and receive material donations. A writer from São Paulo, for example, gave me books to resell and get resources to compete. I have a friend at site, which helps athletes who have no sponsorship, and I also get some help there.

About to coordinate the social arm of the gastronomic space ‘Bele Bele Cubano’, which will be created by the Tur Chef America company, the boss of Cuban cook Fernando Calderón Boris, to support some athletes, Josélia is pushing herself to complete her degree in Physical Education with many dreams for the future.

“Now I intend to participate in the Campeonato Sul-Americano (South American Championships) and other international championships. I want to continue in the sport I love. I embraced weight lifting. I look at the bar and my eyes shine, so I will continue dedicating myself and seeking support. I would love to train children. In Brazil, every corner has a futebol school, but not every child will be Neymar! There are other sports. We must diversify. The wealth of Brazil is also huge in the sports field.

For overcoming many prejudices and staying in the fight, Josélia, you are a Flor da Cor (flower of color)!

Source: Flor da Cor

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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