“Mom! Look!”

“What are you doing, Carmen? Doesn’t that hurt?”

“No mom, it feels normal,” replied Carmen. The four-year-old was doing the splits.

Eleven years later, Carmen has become the National Junior Rhythmic Gymnastics Champion of Peru.

Behind this 15-year-old champion is a life of sacrifice and a shy girl who wants to improve her family’s life.

Carmen does the splits, and leans backwards over her back leg to look at the camera.

Since she was little, Carmen and her family experienced poverty, hunger and a lack of opportunities. Her father didn’t earn enough working in construction to support all of the family’s needs. But when Carmen was six, her mother heard there was a church near her home that provided support for people in need, and she enrolled Carmen in the program.

“When Carmen joined the Compassion program, she was malnourished and was very shy,” says María, Carmen’s Compassion tutor. “But she was always showing what she can do with her legs and pirouettes. I was terrified to see a little girl so flexible and without pain! We noticed that Carmen was happy doing that, so we encouraged her mom to look for places where Carmen could show her abilities!”

Her parents didn’t have the money to enrol Carmen in gymnastics training, but when a local coach saw her abilities, she was granted a full scholarship. From that moment on, the opportunities have continued. She went on to compete around Lima, and at one competition she was spotted by a trainer.

“She said to my mom that she wanted to take me to the Peruvian Gymnastics Federation!”

A girl stands in a white and red workout outfit, wearing gold medals around her neck, and poses with her right leg held up to hear ear.

Carmen strikes a pose in her neighbourhood in Lima, Peru.

Carmen started to train at the Peruvian Gymnastics Federation for free. As she gained skills, she began to train every day.

“I was very happy to practice every day, but at the same time I was sad because things are home were not easy. My dad didn’t make much money and I started to miss the trainings as we didn’t have money for transportation,” says Carmen. “I was thinking of giving up on this sport and finding a job to help my parents.”

The Compassion staff knew how important gymnastics was to Carmen, so through sponsorship, she received a budget for transportation to the federation and special meals to give her the nutrition to train. She’s the only one of her gymnastics friends who has limited resources. But that hasn’t stopped her.

She’s the only one of her gymnastics friends who has limited resources. But that hasn’t stopped her.

In 2017, Carmen participated in the South American Games in Ecuador, and then in November 2017, she competed in the National Championship of Rhythmic Gymnastics.

Carmen won gold medals in hoop, ball, ribbon, clubs and group routine, becoming the National Junior Champion in rhythmic gymnastics.

Her title hasn’t changed who she is. Carmen is still a humble girl who loves her family and relies on God.

“God has done so much in my life. He is helping me overcome my fears and shyness, and I am better every day. I am who I am thanks to Him,” says Carmen. “I am also thankful to my parents.”

“We are committed to support Carmen,” says Carmen’s mom. “We cannot give her a nice house; we cannot give her money or new clothes; but we give our support and time. We will do anything to support her and see her happy.”

“We cannot give her a nice house; we cannot give her money or new clothes; but we give our support and time.”

A girl stands facing a mirror and holding onto a bar while she raises one leg over her head.

The life of a champion isn’t easy—training is hard and sometimes Carmen’s dad doesn’t find work. But her parents, the gymnastics federation and her Compassion centre stand by her.

“I am thankful to the centre because they have cared about my physical and spiritual health,” says Carmen. “They provide me with balanced meals and cover my medical needs too. They are always reminding me that with God I can go on. It is here where I receive the spiritual training I need before going to my physical training.”

Carmen is the only Christian gymnast at the federation, and she is sharing God’s love with her teammates.

“I know God brought me here to share His love,” says Carmen.

A girl in a purple shirt and a woman in a teal shirt hold hands and pray with an open Bible in front of them.

“It is here where I receive the spiritual training I need before going to my physical training,” says Carmen of her Compassion centre.

So, what is next for Carmen? She has been selected among the top four gymnasts in Peru and will receive specialized training. She has also been selected to participate at the 2019 Pan American Games that will be held in Lima, Peru, where 41 countries will participate. If she wins in these games, she will qualify to participate in the 2020 Olympic Games.

We are so proud of Carmen and how she is using her spark to shine brightly in this world in Jesus’ name! When God opens a door, nobody can close it—not even the force of poverty.

Thank you for sponsoring a child through Compassion; you never know the hidden potential inside of them.

By Betsy Grandez, Compassion Peru

Written by: Compassion Canada