Julian Esteban Villegas: From the Streets to the Athletics Podiums

That day, he discovered that he had a talent for athletics. Today, at 31, he has made it his profession. He trains every day to improve his performance and competes relentlessly. The young homeless boy has become an adult, an athlete with multiple medals.

He doesn’t hesitate to talk about his life. It has been tough, ungrateful, and full of surprises. Julian Esteban Villegas quickly explains that he is preparing to write a book about his journey, the journey of fighting to live, or rather fighting to survive. At a very young age, around six, he found himself in the home of an unknown family in the town of Rionegro, Colombia.

It was his employers who made him work every day in the sugarcane fields. He also received numerous beatings for any kind of mistake, most of which were childish missteps. “They would hit me for any reason. I worked hard.

Almost every day from 6:00 in the morning until 6:30 in the evening. Sometimes from sunrise, around 4:00, until sunset. As a child, I would often doze off around 4:30 and would get beaten for it. Additionally, in Rionegro, there were armed groups that mistreated me, especially when they found me on the route to run errands for my employers.

The guerrilla also tried to recruit me. I managed to escape.” Tired of the anger that consumed him, he eventually left that home. His gaze wanders as he recounts this time in his life.

There’s no need to give gruesome details. The pain is evident on his face. Nevertheless, he continued offering his services in the village. Even while living on the streets, his work was appreciated by the inhabitants of Rionegro.

A school teacher also helped him start his studies. Until the day someone gave him a bicycle. He discovered a new world that fascinated him and he wanted to compete. At 17, he felt ready.

“When I arrived at the race, they explained to me that it wasn’t cycling, but athletics. I asked where I could leave my bike. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t know anything at that time.

I came in eighth in that category out of 5,000. When I spoke about my achievement to my employer, he decided to accompany me in my training. The goal was to participate in the Medellin Half Marathon. With no knowledge in the field, Julian Esteban Villegas trained every day after work, after sunset.

In the general classification, he ranked 111th, with the best time among young runners, out of nearly 15,000 participants. Today, he still trains every day at 4:00 in the morning. “I don’t have a sponsor, so there’s no respite. I race almost every fortnight.

Often, I reinvest the money I earn in other races. If I don’t earn enough, I do odd jobs in the fields to get by. But I won’t stop doing athletics. Next year, my main goal is to run at altitude, over 3,400 meters, to participate in the Guatavita Trail Merrel.

Because this race qualifies for the Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland. No Colombian has won it since the 1990s.” While waiting to win that Swiss medal, he has several Colombian ones to his name: the Ginebra Half Marathon, the Nevado del Ruiz Marathon, the Popayan Mountain Marathon, and the K42 race in Cali. He also recently traveled to Argentina.

Next year, he will start the year with the Sevilla race in Colombia. At the end of our interview, with a determined smile, Julian Esteban Villegas went back to training for the second time that day. Two days later, he took part in two competitions in one weekend.

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