Few would have a story that could match Brazil’s Fabiano Affonso.


The four-time Brazilian ocean canoeing champion has a life story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, and his story should inspire anyone who claims paddling for five kilometres to help raise funds for charity is too hard.

Long before Affonso became a national champion he had already overcome a major challenge. At five years old it was discovered he was suffering from severe bilateral hearing loss, and would need a hearing aid.

In 1998 he started paddling, just as a bit of fun, but quickly realised he had some talent. He decided to turn professional, and was rewarded with his four national ocean racing titles. His career was flourishing, and his love of the ocean and of sitting in a kayak gave him a life he could once have only dreamed of.

But then disaster struck. He should have died. It certainly looked like his athletic career was dead.

In 2012 Fabiano Affonso found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. An armed robber wanted his motorbike, and shouted at Fabiano to stop. But because of his hearing impairment, and because he was wearing a helmet, he didn’t hear the robber.

So he was shot. In the face. Right next to his eyes, with the bullet passing through his head. He didn’t die, but he was blinded and also lost his sense of smell and almost all his hearing. It was a devastatingly cruel blow for an elite athlete, and seemingly meant his career was over.

My message to people is, never give up. Always keep active

But while he may have believed his canoeing days were over, others weren’t prepared to let him give it all away. In 2015 two friends visited Affonso at the rehabilitation clinic where he worked as a chiropractor and physiotherapist, encouraging him to pick up his paddle again.

“I started paddling again in 2016, when I got an ergometer for my training, as I had no-one else to practice with me on the double surfski,” Affonso said.

“(But) In 2017 I got a training partner, in 2018 we were Brazilian champions in double surfski, and we participated in the ‘Nelo Summer Challenge’ in Portugal.”

His love for canoeing had returned, and in 2019 he started thinking about paddling on his own again. He experimented using a remote control operated by a second person on a boat to direct his rudder. But Affonso found it difficult to adapt because the sudden change of rudder direction caused instability.

This year, thanks to the encouragement of his coach, Sebastian Cuattrin, Affonso tried using an earpiece and following the commands of his visual guide, Andrea Portugal.

It’s been a tremendous success.

“I was able to stablise the balance and continue to improve my technique and physical condition,” Affonso said.

“My message to people is, never give up. Always keep active. We all have a great inner power called ‘will’. No matter the circumstances, if you have the will and determination, and make the decision to make what you want happen, everything in your life will flow in the right direction.”

It’s a mantra Affonso is putting into action by supporting the ICF 5k virtual paddle challenge, which is designed to get people active, while also raising awareness and funds for the important global charity, Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

In the longer term, he is hoping to find a sponsor who can help cover the costs associated with training and competing.

He also has his fingers crossed that a visual cortex chip, which is currently in development, might make life a lot easier when he gets out on the water.

The ICF is proud to be partnering MSF for the 5k virtual paddle challenge. The charity is deploying medics, sending supplies and applying nearly 50 years of experience fighting epidemics to protect the most vulnerable and save lives during the coronavirus.

The one-person challenge can be carried out on any form of ergo, or for those lucky enough to be able to get on the water, on any form of craft officially recognised by the ICF.

There are two important stipulations; all participants must follow the rules in their own country to help prevent the spread of the virus, and each paddler must be able to accurately measure their distance and time.

Each paddler will be required to post details of their performance on the event page, and will then be able to measure their result against other paddlers around the world. To make it even more exciting, participants are encouraged to challenge their friends and colleagues to take up the cause.

It doesn’t matter if the five kilometres are completed at a home gym, a nearby lake, a river or on the ocean. The ICF is emphasising that people should only paddle outside where it is safe to do so, and where it is permitted by their local authorities.

Find more information about our 5k challenge here, and about the work Doctors without Borders (MSF) is doing around the worldhttps://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/covid19 here.

You can enter the challenge here. And by donating to MSF, you will be in the running for great weekly prizes.