The Goddess of Ivory: A Story of Success Beyond Medals

By-Jonathan Mejias

Its only 6:00 a.m. in the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. The high pitched sound of the “coqui” confirms that it’s still dark in the morning. The raindrops covering the short green grass around the synthetic track will soon dry up because the sun is already coming out. Hopefully the sneakers will not be needing a brush after running and there will be no excuse for being late.

The sun rises, the garbage truck passes by and while most of the students and faculty are still asleep, Nilsa París Millán and her track and field team is up for their daily routine.

París or “Chay”, as her friends called her, is an athletic woman around 5 feet 2 inches tall, black short hair, energetic, incredible black skin and with a shining smile wherever she goes.  She is 56 years old but no one believes it, for she looks way younger.

Nilsa París at her office in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She began as a typist and took a lot of workshops, completed a second bachelor degree in office administration and today is the secretary of the director.

She has been working as the administrative secretary of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the UPRM campus for 27 years.

On the other hand, she also wears the green and white uniform as the coach for the woman’s track and field team at the synthetic track behind the Mangual Coliseum.

París practically lives in the UPRM. Her weekly schedule includes her morning training, the work in her office and finally running again with the team from 4:30 p.m. till the sun comes down.

“I feel so happy. This is what really fascinates me. I feel just like one of them. Running with them gives me so much energy,” said París.

Somehow seeing her students working hard for what they wants remembers her about her years as an amateur.

“I started to compete in many sports since I was a little girl. However, when I got to high school, Santa Sánchez, my physical education teacher, motivated me to continue in sports because according to her I had a big future ahead.”

Paris, has represented Puerto Rico in many national and international competitions, such as the Intercollegiate Games, Penn Relays, Central American and Caribbean Games, World Athletics Championships and most recently the World Masters Athletics Championships.

“Prof, Gabino Irrizárry is my trainer from long ago, he is the responsible of the all the accomplishments that I have achieved.”

“Prof, Gabino Irrizárry is my trainer from long ago, he is the responsible of the all the accomplishments that I have achieved.”

París believes that a good athlete is born with the skills and talent. “Some athletes can be made by hard training but they will never be as good as the others who were born with innate physical capacities.”

According to a research conducted by Zatziorski, sports metrologist, “the capacities of the athlete to influence in the success of a particular activity, will develop with the union of congenital and acquired properties.

For the Ivory Goddess, like a Mexican newspaper called her after winning 15 gold medals, has not been it easy to be in the place she’s at today.

“I was born into a family with low income and resources in Carolina and raised in San Antón, a poor neighborhood in the same city. We were 11 in a house of wood, sport was the opportunity to progress. That’s why I and all my siblings were always. ”

París followed her teacher’s advice and continue improving her skills. When she graduated from high school she gracefully received an invitation of the UPRM to be part of the track and field team and offered her financial aid. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all that easy.

“I remember many times in Summer I didn’t have anything to eat, especially because there was no financial aid during that session in college. Back then I had to eat mangoes to calm my hunger” said, París looking at the mango’s tree behind the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

It’s been 41 years since the Title IX was established. This law banned sex discrimination in any educational program that received any type of federal aid in the United States system. This definitely helped hundreds of women that didn’t had the privilege to compete and benefit from the scholarships in college, like París.

Fortunately, París didn’t experienced any kind of discrimination, at least because of gender. However, this woman proves the falsity of the myth that women are naturally inferior to men in terms of strength and that women can’t be as good at sports as men.

“I constantly receive compliments for my achievements in sports, a place frequently dominated by men. I have never been discriminated because of my gender, on the contrary, I have experienced a lot of admiration of everybody.”

On the other hand, she still wonders about a weird experience she had in Europe during a College Sports Games. She wants to believe God wanted her to show that black people exist, compete and are human as anybody else.

“I’m not sure if it was racism, but in a competition I had in Bulgaria, an old women came to me, and the main judge suddenly stop the race. She touched me and awkwardly looked at her hands to see if I painted her. She left and then came again and gave me a hug.”

In terms of the feeling when competing internationally, París said “Is the greatest privilege and experience that any Puerto Rican athlete could ever had. When I compete I think about the responsibility and duty I have with my country.”

Nilsa París in the Pepe Barrientos Games in Cuba back in the 1983. She won a silver medal in 200 meters with a record of 23.70 seconds and was recognized for being the second women to achieve less than 24 seconds in 200 meters.

It was almost launch hour,  París grabbed her huge cellphone covered with a thick green colored rubber, she checked the hour and then played via YouTube a video of the 200 meters event in USA Indoor National Masters in which she won a gold medal.

Once the video was over, a moment of silent stood, she said very proudly “If you ask me why I like so much to coach, I will definitely say that I want to transmit all my knowledge as long as God want, to help other people to get as far as I did or will, because I know this talent is not eternal.”


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