Commentators at the Nordic world ski championships in Lahti, Finland, never saw anything like it before: a wobbly skier who could barely keep his balance, even as he made his way to the course.
Accustomed to seeing some of the best skiers in the world, crowds watched as Venezuelan competitor Adrian Solana unsteadily made his way on and then through the course. He fell often, and commentators called him the ‘world’s worst skier ever.’
But there’s more to the story. Up until the competition, the 22-year-old Venezuelan had never even seen snow. The first time he ever stepped foot — much less skied — on snow was this first competition.
Solano is a cook in Maracay, and took up roller skiing about a year ago, simply because he likes ‘trying difficult things.’ A cross-country skier gave him some equipment, and Solano practiced five hours a day on weekends in hopes of representing Venezuela in an event dominated by northern European countries, whose climates offer ideal training conditions.
Solano hoped to train for a month in Sweden on snow before the championships. But airport officials in Paris delayed his entry to his connecting flight, skeptical that he was a professional skier. With not much cash and his resolve exhausted after being questioned for five days, Solano returned to Venezuela.
Solano’s troubles became a viral story in the Scandinavian countries. A prominent TV personality, Aleksi Valavuori, moved by the story of an unlikely dream, helped Solano and his coach raise money with a GoFundMe page to take a last-minute flight out of Venezuela to make the event. In three hours, Valavuori and his social media followers raised enough to buy Solano airfare, and soon he was on his way to Finland.
“When he arrived, it was like love at first sight with everybody,” Valavuori told The New York Times. “But he only told me about having not seen snow after he got here.”
Solano, by the usual standards, had a difficult event. He completed the first 3.5 kilometers in almost 40 minutes — the same amount of time it took his more seasoned competitors to complete the entire 10-kilometer course. He was exhausted, unaccustomed to going uphill in skis, and ended up retiring from the event early.
But that doesn’t mean Solano is giving up on skiing altogether. Back in Venezuela, he says he will continue practicing his sport and hopes to ski on snow more often. He wants to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics, representing Venezuela — and those who follow seemingly impossible dreams.
“The part I actually enjoyed the most was falling down,” Solano told The New York Times. “Because now I am more motivated to get up and keep achieving my goal.”