Mar 21, 2023

Athanasios Ghavelas On Why He Believes Impossible is Nothing

Losing your sight at an early age could end many sporting dreams. But not for this Greek sprinter who always believed in his ability to be the very best.
by Jon Greenhalgheditor

As a young boy, T11 Paralympic gold medalist and world record holder Athanasios ‘Nasos’ Ghavelas was like any other kid. He played with his friends, embraced sports and enjoyed everything life had to offer. But at the age of ten, he started to lose his sight.

While you’d perhaps assume this was the beginning of a tale of sadness and hardship, it’s actually quite the opposite, so I was delighted to be able to sit down with Nasos during his recent trip to our HQ in Herzogenaurach, Germany to hear how he powered through life’s challenges to write himself into the record books.

When we met, I couldn’t help but notice Nasos’ calming, modest, yet confident aura. You get the feeling that he was born to shake the world, so I was excited to hear about how he faced the challenges and powered through to get to the top of his game.


The journey begins

Nasos starts with a glimpse into his childhood where his love of sports first became apparent.

“When I was in primary school, I was doing many sports: tennis, basketball, football, running… Everything. I remember playing with the other children. When we ran, everyone was trying to be the fastest, but I always won. I’ve always loved running, and I’ve always loved to run fast.”

Nasos takes some time from his busy schedule to share his story.Nasos takes some time from his busy schedule to share his story.

"I have always had a passion for speed. It’s something more than love. Speed is something different for me."

Athanasios GhavelasT11 Paralympic gold medalist

“But when I was 10 or 11 years old, my ‘problem’ – which I don’t really consider to be a problem – came through and in just one year I lost almost all my vision. At first, we didn’t know what was happening. It’s not something that happens often, or to many people.

“I remember sitting in class one day and our teacher was talking to me. I wasn’t looking into her eyes. She asked me why I was so distracted, but I honestly thought I was looking at her. There was another time when I was reading for the class, but I was really struggling. She thought I was making fun of her as I always used to read so well.”

Given this unexpected turn of events, it’d be easy to imagine Nasos’ plans for the future would have to be adjusted. But no.

There’s one thing that has helped Nasos to navigate his challenges, and that’s the network of love that surrounds him. These people have given him the support he needs to maintain a steadfast focus on where he wants – and deserves – to be.

“I have some really good people with me. These people are my family, they have never looked at me as if there is something wrong with me.”

"Nothing changed. I don't feel anything changed about me. I have never let go of my dream and I will always follow my dream."

Athanasios GhavelasT11 Paralympic gold medalist

Turning a dream into reality

I ask Nasos how he remains so set on achieving his goals, and he responds with the same unwavering positivity and confidence, while remaining humble at the very same time.  

"The dream is not in your eyes, it’s in your heart and in your thoughts"

Athanasios GhavelasT11 Paralympic gold medalist

“The dream is not in your eyes, it’s in your heart and in your thoughts. This is the important part for me. I always follow my heart and my heart said to keep on working. I believe that if you do this, one day you will be the best and you will achieve your dream

Nasos on the track embracing his passion for speed at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. ©Naomi Baker, Getty ImagesNasos on the track embracing his passion for speed at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. ©Naomi Baker, Getty Images

“When I was 16 years old, I had some conversations with my coach and he asked me, “What do you want? Why do you want to be an athlete over 100 meters? What is your target?” and I said, “I want to be an Olympic champion.” He’s shown me how to do that. He’s like a sport father for me.

“But it took a lot of hard work. My coach showed me how to work towards my dream. He would tell me, “You will follow me for everything. You will do this, this, this, and this. You don’t have free time anymore. You have your target. You need to do many things.” I just said, “Okay. I will do it.”


Beating the world (twice)

Any athlete will strive to be the best they can be, but taking away the title and carving your name into the record books requires passion, talent, preparation, determination and the right conditions. For Nasos, this heady mix took him to the top, even though he didn’t entirely expect it.

“I remember a conversation with my coach, and I asked him, “How can I go below 11 seconds?” It seemed like an impossible goal. It’s too fast for a blind athlete and the (previous) world record was 10:92. At the time, there were only two guys going under 11 seconds.

"It seemed like an impossible goal. It's too fast for a blind athlete and the (previous) world record was 10:92."

Athanasios GhavelasT11 Paralympic gold medalist

“In the European Championships I ran 10:98. I broke the European record twice – both in the heats and the finals. I remember my coach telling me that at some point in time I’d go under 10:80. “We’ll see,” I said.”

Nasos celebrates with his guide Sotirios Gkaragkanis after winning gold in the Men’s 100m at the Tokyo Paralympics. ©Buda Mendes, Getty ImagesNasos celebrates with his guide Sotirios Gkaragkanis after winning gold in the Men’s 100m at the Tokyo Paralympics. ©Buda Mendes, Getty Images

“For the Paralympics in Tokyo three months later, I just wanted to show how much work I’d been putting in. The weather was good, and I knew I would run fast.”

"It was my first Paralympic Games, so you have no idea how I was feeling. But I had a feeling I would run fast in the heats. I ran 10:88 and could hear the Greek crowd going crazy in the stands."

Athanasios GhavelasT11 Paralympic gold medalist

“But the world record wasn’t the target. My target was to get the gold medal and I still had the semi-final and final to go. When I was being interviewed, I would say, “I’m not going to say anything, see you in the final.” In the semi-final, I ran more relaxed and got 10:99. After that, I kept telling myself to save all my energy for the final.

“When the final came, I was really focused. I gave it everything and finished in 10.82. I took the world record because I felt I could do it, but I don’t want to stop there. I want to continue to give my best and we will see if that time goes down.”

It certainly seems like Nasos’ coach had a point…

"I took the world record because I felt I could do it"

Athanasios GhavelasT11 Paralympic gold medalist

A unified belief with a desire to represent

As with many of our athletes, the decision to partner with adidas was driven by Nasos’ strong emotional connection with our brand. As a young boy, he used to watch all the great athletes competing in adidas, but never expected to be part of the family.

“Regardless of whether I was playing football or running on the track, I always used adidas shoes, from my time in primary school, the Paralympic Games in Tokyo until today.

“I appreciate and respect the partnership that we have and I’m really happy that there’s this family relationship. We work together to get the best out of the shoes, out of me, out of everything.”

"I really enjoy being a part of adidas because as a company, we share the same values and sense of purpose."

Athanasios GhavelasT11 Paralympic gold medalist

“I’m very careful about who I partner with, and adidas is one of the companies that I believe works for a cause. Impossible is Nothing. I really feel that nothing can stop you and the power is in your hands. The message that impossible is nothing for me is very real.

“I want to show others with disabilities that impossible is nothing, too. I want to show them that you can do anything if you believe in yourself. If you have a dream you can make it happen.”


So, what’s next for Athanasios Ghavelas?

“This season, my main target is the World Championships in June. I also have the Diamond League meetings. After that, my next big target will be the world championships in 2024, in Kobe, Japan, followed by the big dream: The Paralympic Games in Paris. I’m already working on that.”

As our time draws to a close, I reflect on everything Nasos has shared with me, leaving me in no doubt he’ll continue to succeed in the years to come. My parting message is not only to keep an eye out for Nasos on the track, but to take a leaf out of his book and turn adversity into your greatest strength.

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