Biography of Teresa Perales Fernández, Spanish heroine, extraordinary Paralympic swimmer. Winner of 26 swimming medals at the Summer Paralympic Games.
In addition, she won 20 medals at the Paralympic Swimming World Championships.
In October 2021, Teresa Perales received the 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for Sports.
She was awarded this award, as she has become an example of self-improvement for millions of people with disabilities around the world and an icon of international Paralympic sport.
The early years of Teresa Perales
María Teresa Perales Fernández was born in Zaragoza (Aragón), on December 29, 1975.
When she finished her studies at school, she wanted to start Medicine, with the intention to leave as a missionary after finishing her degree.
Her altruistic and caring vocation remains one of the strongest features of her personality.
In 1994, when she was going to enter the University, she was seriously affected by a disease of the nervous system (neuropathy) that worsened without remission.
The neuropathy affected mobility, from the waist to the feet. In May 1995 she lost the ability to walk.
As it is to be supposed, a disease of this type, at the age of 20, in her youth, affected her deeply.
She was afraid to go outside and meet friends again. In conversations, many people addressed her without speaking directly to her; no bad intention, but it hurt.
To leave the house, she had to do it through the garage, since the building was not suitable for those who had to use a wheelchair.
Teresa received the unconditional and generous support of her entire family; That helped her overcome those first months of anguish.
Teresa is possessed of an active mind and an iron will. In Spain it is said that these are two qualities very typical of the people of Aragon.
Well, Teresa Perales is very Aragonese. She made the firm decision to focus her sports concerns on swimming.
One fine day, she jumped into the pool with a life jacket, her brother on one side and her uncle on the other.
Although at first she swam like a puppy and her movements were very rough and uncoordinated, they soon began to fit in; suddenly found that she was good at swimming.
She learned to swim; and in less than a year since the traumatic May 1995, she began competing in swimming.
In the water she felt free because she could move without the need for any apparatus.
And also, because it was a cheap sport, for which she did not need anything special: just a hat, glasses, swimsuit and towel.
Teresa Perales had to overcome in those first days dedicated to swimming, the enormous difficulties she had to put on and take off her swimsuit. She beat them with energy, always positive, and always showing her beaming smile.
Teresa Perales’ sports career
With only three years of training, in 1998, she won a bronze medal competing in the 50-meter freestyle at the Paralympic World Swimming Championships in New Zealand.
From there, she jumped to the championships in Spain, Europe, and the World. It was the beginning of 19 years of competitions and international triumphs in Paralympic swimming.
She participated triumphantly until 2017, that is, until she was 42 years old.
- Between 2002 and 2017, she won 19 medals at the Paralympic World Swimming Championships.
- 2002: in Mar del Plata, Argentina: five silver and two bronze medals.
- 2006: in Durban, South Africa: one silver and two bronze medals.
- 2015: in Glasgow, UK: two gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
- 2017: in Mexico City: one gold medal and two silver.
Between 2000 and 2016, she won 26 medals in swimming at the Paralympic Summer Games.
- 2000: in Sydney, Australia: one silver medal and four bronze.
- 2004: in Athens, Greece: two gold medals, one silver and three bronze.
- 2008: in Beijing, China: three gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
- 2012: in London, UK: one gold, three silver and two bronze medals.
- 2016: in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: one gold medal and three silver.
- On August 29, 2012, she was the standard-bearer for the Spanish delegation at the opening ceremony of the City of London Paralympic Games.
Recognitions for her sports excellence
It is not surprising that, with such a record of triumphs achieved with heroic effort, all the entities of Spain have turned to pay homage to Teresa Perales.
- On October 4, 2004, Teresa was honored by the Cortes de Aragón, which presented her with a five-hundred-year-old olive tree shoot found in the gardens surrounding the Aljafería Palace.
- On May 14, 2013, at the 16th edition of the Aragón Sports Gala, she was awarded as the best Aragonese athlete.
CITY COUNCIL OF ZARAGOZA
- On October 4, 2008, the plenary session of the City Council of her city granted her the title of Favorite Daughter of Zaragoza.
- The next day, Teresa and other Aragonese women received the Medal of Homage to the Heroines, from the hands of the Mayor of the city.
- On June 5, 2012, she was awarded at the XX edition of the Aragonese Awards of the Year.
- On October 6, 2012, she was in charge of giving the opening of the Pilar festivities.
- Eight days later, on October 14, 2012, she was awarded by the City Council as the Exemplary Zaragozana.
- In February 2013, at the Zaragoza Sports Gala, she received the Diploma of Sports Merit.
THE KINGS AND THE GOVERNMENT OF SPAIN
- On April 23, 2009, she was decorated by the Kings of Spain with the Royal Order of Sports Merit and was awarded the Gold Medal.
- On November 2, 2012, the Government of Spain awarded her the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Sports Merit. This is the highest official recognition for a Spanish athlete. Teresa became the first Paralympic athlete to receive this award.
- On April 2, 2014, she received this award from King Juan Carlos I at the Palacio de La Zarzuela. They accompanied Teresa, her husband Mariano Menor and her 4-year-old son Mariano.
- On July 27, 2017, she was awarded the Medal of Merit at Work by the President of the Government at the Palacio de La Moncloa.
On January 27, 2017, she was vested with a Doctor Honoris Causa by the Miguel Hernández University of Elche.
SPANISH SPORTS FEDERATION
- In October 2012, she received the Juan Palau Award for Best Sportsman of the Year 2012.
The Juan Palau Awards, instituted by the “Spanish Federation of Sports for People with Physical Disabilities”, have the purpose of “recognizing and awarding athletes, technicians, sports leaders and sports entities that have stood out in a remarkable way for the human values expressed during the exercise of their sports activity, that is, for their values, attitudes and ethical sports behaviors, in addition to the importance of their successes, brands, championships, medals and trophies“.
Teresa Perales’ family life and activities
On January 8, 2005, Teresa Perales married the Spanish journalist Mariano Menor, in the Basilica del Pilar in Zaragoza.
Teresa said that the first meeting with Mariano Menor was related to the song “ne me quitte pas” by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel.
On the day of the wedding, to surprise her boyfriend and to show off the train of the wedding dress, she managed to walk in, arm in arm with her brother, to the main altar of the Basilica del Pilar.
Four years later, in 2010, she gave birth to her son Mariano.
In 2007, with the help of her husband, Mariano, she published an autobiographical book: “My life on wheels“. Title chosen with subtle irony, referring to her wheelchair. At the same time, it symbolized what her sports life was: that it was forged with a lot of effort and will. And that “on wheels, nothing at all“. The book is a song to life.
On November 14, 2008, Teresa was in charge of giving the “starting gun” to the many activities that were going to be organized at the Zaragoza Aquarium.
She was immersed in the central tank of this enclosure, which was built for the 2008 International Exposition.
In March 2009, she co-starred with four other Paralympic athletes, in the documentary film directed by Mabel Lozano: “The Theory of Spiralism” in which her day-to-day life is shown.
On October 2, 2009, Teresa Perales and Raúl González (Real Madrid player) were chosen to represent the Spanish athletes, at the presentation in Copenhague of Madrid’s candidacy to host the 2016 Olympic Games and Games Paralympics.
In September 2012, she was the protagonist of the program “Unidad Móvil” on the Aragón TV channel, “Una mujer de leyenda”.
On January 31, 2013, she traveled to the headquarters of the International Paralympic Committee (in Bonn, Germany). Objective: present the dossier of Madrid’s candidacy for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In March 2013, she was one of the protagonists of TV1’s “Comando Actualidad” program, “Excellent People”.
On September 7, 2013, Teresa Perales and the basketball player Pau Gasol were the ambassadors for Spanish sport, in the IOC final election for the Madrid bid, in Buenos Aires (Argentina).
In 2014, Teresa, along with more than 200 Spanish athletes, received a scholarship from the Universidad Católica San Antonio de Murcia.
On March 20 of that same year, she presented her book “The Force of a Dream” in Zaragoza with the sports journalist María Escario.
In 2015 she was interviewed by the Interviú magazine in its issue number 2047.
For 2 years, she was a professor at the University of Zaragoza, of the subject “Physiotherapy in Paralympic Sport“.
Along with Mireia Belmonte, Teresa Perales is one of the notable Spanish athletes.
Teresa Perales’ political career
Teresa Perales was too attractive a jewel and no political party wanted to stop counting on her participation.
She was also interested in helping to take steps towards greater integration of women in society. She decided to take a leap into politics, to exercise her vocation of service in the Government of Aragon.
- In the autonomic elections of 2003, she was elected a deputy of the Aragonese Party (PAR) for Zaragoza in the Cortes de Aragón.
- 2006: assumed the General Direction of Attention to the Dependency, in Aragon.
- The following year, she was presented by the PAR as head of the list for the 2008 general elections for Zaragoza.
- In June 2008, at the ninth Rolde Choben congress, she was elected president of the youth of the Aragonese Party.
Her last participation in the political world was in the general elections of November 20, 2011.
Teresa was ranked number 7 on the Congress lists of deputies in the PP-PAR coalition.
Other activities by Teresa Perales
“From woman to woman ” is the largest solidarity society for women in the world. Its main objective is to collaborate with women from India, so they can start a small business.
In India social inequalities predominate; And with this little help, women can achieve economic independence and live with dignity.
This company is one of the projects of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation. With a contribution of 9 euros per month, Spanish women can contribute to these grants.
Teresa Perales traveled to India to deepen her knowledge of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation project. She is currently one of the most active collaborators in the “From Woman to Woman” project.
She studied “Physiotherapy” and has practiced as a physical therapist, in the Zaragoza hospital.
She has been a professor of the subject of free choice “Physiotherapy in Paralympic Sport” at the University of Zaragoza.
She has taught at the Summer Universities in Teruel and Cantabria.
In the 20th century, there have been numerous Spanish women who started to make headlines in the sports world.