After gold, Joana Santos wants to «see more deaf people in judo»

Algarve judoka brought gold from this year's Deaflympic Games and is already thinking about 2025

Photo: Mariana Carriço | Sul Informação

At 32 years old, Joana Santos has a vast sporting career, full of victories in national and international fights. Age can already weigh when it comes time to give it all on the mat, but experience counts even more.

It was this experience that, according to Joana Santos, led her to victory in the -57kg judo category at the Caxias do Sul 2021 Surdolympic Games, in Brazil, on May 3, after beating Korean Hyeonah Lee, ten years younger.

“I had to manage my effort very well to win him. It took many years to understand how to manage the combat better», tells the athlete to Sul Informação, before another afternoon of training at the Judo Clube do Algarve, located in the Mercado de Faro, where the judoka trains every day.

Joana was born without hearing and it is in silence that she lives her day to day, but that never stopped her from wanting to live like any other listener, because, as she says, “she never felt the difference for being deaf”, especially in sports.

At age 6, he took his first steps into this world. He started with ballet, but it took two years for him to realize that this was not the modality she wanted to practice for the rest of her life.

After looking for something that would captivate his attention more, at the age of 9 he arrived at judo. It was here, at the Judo Clube do Algarve, that she found a second family and a coach (master) who today is for her «like a father».

“I really liked the people right away, they always helped me and I never felt any difference because I was deaf. There are places where they distance themselves, but here there was always a lot of union. I started with a fantastic group of six girls my age, we grew up together, but at the time of university, we split up and I'm the only one who's still there at the moment».

Ao Sul Informação, Joana reveals that, when she gets to the mat, she feels “just like a listener”.

“As for the referees, it is more difficult. Many already know me, but others, when they don't know, use knocking to say they stopped. As I don't hear, I need to be touched, but some people forget and I continue to make an effort unnecessarily. But in the proof, it is otherwise the same».

In competitions and training, the essential ingredient is determination and the will to work to be more and better, so communication on the mat was never a problem for Joana or for the coach, Júlio Marcelino, who assumes that «language difficulties were never big”.


Joana Santos with master Júlio Marcelino. Photo: Mariana Carriço | Sul Informação


“I don't know sign language, but I can say that we communicate easily. The language difficulties were never great because there is a model that I show and they repeat. There was never any problem with his teammates either », says the master regarding the athlete, who he defines as the current « club's standard bearer ».

Despite being deaf, Joana does not fail to participate in championships with hearing people, from which she almost always comes out with a medal. She also participates in championships for the deaf.

In these, the medals at international level are also many, but Joana does not hide that, if she could choose her favorite, it would be the gold medal of the Deaflympic Games, collected at the beginning of the month.

“It was a very important victory for me. I wanted a lot and I always went with the spirit of winning. It took many years to understand how to manage the combat better».

For Júlio Marcelino, this was also a great achievement. “Both the medal of the World Championship and that of the Deaflympic Games was a great honor. Mainly, because I know the previous path and the difficulties we went through. I'm not saying we cried, but it wasn't easy. In addition, the opponents were of caliber and while they are in their 20s, Joana is 32».

According to the master, age is already starting to «weigh», but he believes that Joana still has everything to be able to win in the upcoming competitions (European Championship, 2023, World Championship, 2024, and Deaflympic Games, 2025), "just want".

In Joana, one also feels the will to continue fighting to win – as she says, at least until the next Deaflympic games.

“The goal is always to win, fight after fight. I don't like to come home without a medal, but when I lose, the goal is to work harder and harder and then win. I would really like to get gold in the next games, but I still have three years to work, so I don't know. I'm going to sell, but I want to win”.

Ao Sul Informação, the athlete confesses that now, after receiving the medal, it is time to rest, but not completely, because, as she says, «being still is not something she likes».

So he takes a break from judo, but continues to work on other things, like running or swimming (which he uses to practice when he takes his son to the pool).

For now, Santiago, 4, does not show great interest in wanting to practice judo – he says he likes soccer and swimming more – but Joana, his mother, does not lose hope that her son will one day become a judoka.

However, he says that, essentially, he would like his son to be interested in sports and lead a healthy life – something he considers “very important”.


Joana Santos with her son. Photo: Mariana Carriço | Sul Informação


In Joana's opinion, new technologies are increasingly pushing children and young people away from sport, especially the deaf, «who take refuge in it a lot».

«I would like to see more deaf people in Judo, but now it is difficult. There are too many cell phones, too many distractions for children, which make them withdraw from other activities.”

Due to her career, Joana does not hide that she feels an inspiration to other athletes.

“I think I am an example also because I am deaf. For those who listen, it may even be easier, but I never gave up. I like that they look at me as an example to follow, an example of someone who never gave up”, she reinforces.

At the Judo Clube do Algarve, there have already been more deaf athletes, but the fact that Joana “pulled for them” was not enough to make them stay.

For Júlio Marcelino, it is an honor to be at the head of a club that has never refused to receive athletes.

«The Judo Club has always been an integration club. I have some kids here with various pathologies and they've always trained together. Judo has this specificity of holding each other and feeling the other and that also brings humility and respect, which, in my opinion, are basic factors for their future as people», he emphasizes.

During the training, which started at 19:30 pm, it was possible to perceive these specificities that the master talks about.

Júlia, a new athlete, joins Joana to learn some of the models that are being executed. Although they haven't known each other for so long, there is already effective communication between them, through gestures and simple looks.

Experience is what makes Joana an example to be followed by all those who, like her, have fallen in love with this sport that has been her full-time job for a long time.

From this work, Joana receives a scholarship from the State, as a high-performance athlete, which allows her to live only from sport, but when the day of "retirement" arrives, that support also ends.

Ao Sul Informação, Joana says that, for now, she does not think much about the difficulties that may arise after leaving competitions, but talks about the possibility of dedicating herself to teaching the modality – «to the deaf and hearing», she emphasizes.

«I think that deaf and hearing people should always train together, as I have always trained. I have already been a national champion with hearing people and this is proof that being deaf is not a limitation”, concludes the athlete.


Photos: Mariana Sedge | Sul Informação