By Janet Tappin Coelho in Brazil
A triathlete who had to have both her legs and tips of some fingers amputated after contracting severe septicaemia became the first person to perform with prosthetic legs in a Brazilian carnival.
Adriele Silva, 30, was the highlight of the Sao Paulo Carnival in the early hours of Sunday morning (11 February) as she fulfilled a dream to parade with the Vai Vai Samba School in the Anhembi Sambadrome.
The sportswoman was invited by the academy, which has won 15 championships in the premiere division, to parade at the front of the procession as part of the commissao de frente or the delegation at the front.
She was placed on a float and had to balance, pose, samba and role play as the elaborately designed vehicle moved down the avenue and was elevated up the structure in a puff of smoke like an angel during the choreography.
Adiele who has won triathlete championships and was the first double-amputee woman to compete in the Ironman challenge, a series of long distance triathlon races, described her carnival experience as one of the most electrifying and memorable moments she has ever had.
“Parading with the school was an unbelievable opportunity which I will treasure forever,” she said.
“It was a huge challenge to believe that I could perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people and represent the school and interpret the theme, which was about faith, in a convincing way.”
The commissao de frente has about 10 to 15 members dressed in the most elaborate and ornate costumes of the entire parade and are the first dancers to appear.
Their performance is painstakingly choreographed as the roles are extremely important because they set the tone and introduce the theme of the school.
Vai Vai paid tribute to Gilberto Gil, one of Brazil’s most musically innovative and culturally important artists. The school threaded one of the musician’s most memorable songs – Andar Com Fe, Eu Vou – which talks about walking with faith, into this year’s theme and adapted the title of their parade to Samba Com Fe, Eu Vou or ‘Samba with faith, Yes I will’.
It’s a message that resonates with Adriele who lost her legs six years ago.
“My role at the front of the parade was to portray faith,” she explained.
“This subject means a lot to me because of all the health complications I’ve been through and difficulties I’ve faced, while all the time believing that I could and would survive,” the sportswoman said, adding that self-belief is also extremely important as an athlete.
The courageous young woman learned how to samba on her prosthetic running blades and impressed Vai Vai organisers with her determination that they persuaded her to participate in this year’s parade.
She admitted: “I was really scared about taking on the role because I didn’t want to let anyone down.
“It was a very emotional and thrilling experience because a lot depended on my performance which was integral to Vai Vai’s overall show. Everyone made me feel part of the school and encouraged me throughout.”
In 2012, Adriele was studying industrial engineering and looking forward to a high-flying career when she was struck down by an infection, triggered by a kidney problem.
Doctors at Jundiai Hospital, south east Brazil, diagnosed that a stone was clogging her urinary channel but following delays in prescribing antibiotics the infection got worse.
She suffered liver and kidney failure, two heart attacks and was given just a five percent chance of survival.
A lack of oxygen and blood flow to her extremities caused necrosis in both feet and some fingers.
To save her life surgeons were forced to remove her limbs below the knees and cut off tips of some of her fingers
“I remember just blinking my eyes in agreement when the doctors asked for permission to amputate,” recalled Adriele.
She spent 64 days in hospital, 20 of those in an induced coma.
“I didn’t suffer depression because I believed I would get better even when my uncle brought a priest to see me. I just concentrated on pulling through,” said the determined competitor.
Adriele spent five months in a wheelchair and as she gradually adapted to life with prosthetics, she decided to take up a sport in 2013 to help her rehabilitation.
Within months she had committed herself totally to competing in swimming, running and cycling. She has won silver medal in the 2016 Panamerican Championships and is a Brazilian World Cup champion.
Edimar Tobias da Silva, vice president of Vai Vai commented: “Adriele has achieved so much in her short life and sambaing with us is another victory to add to the courage she displays.
“She is an example to us all because she is living proof that we need to have determination in life and rely on our faith,” he said.