The Trip of a Lifetime – Rio, Brazil!

This month I was able to mark off two bucket list items… Traveling to South America and seeing the Paralympic Games! Paul and I headed to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil at the beginning of the month and spent 7 incredible days in this beautiful country… taking in the culture, the sites, the Cariocas (the name for the locals: a famously friendly, fun-loving people—and famously attractive), the food, and the incredible athleticism of the world’s best athletes!

Whitney Small & Paul Barr on beach in Rio

From our early-morning jogs along the wave-patterned mosaic walkways of the famous Copacabana beach, to our late-night dinners and samba-filled strolls, it was a perfect week that I will never forget.

Each morning we would slip on our running shoes, walk one block from our Airbnb condo, and cross Avenida Atlântica to the white sandy beaches, where we would join a stream of runners, bikers, tourists, and locals moseying along the crescent-shaped beach.

Three to five mile runs felt like nothing with the constant distraction of elaborate sand castles, beach soccer-volley games, kiosks already serving beer and cocktails, vendors selling kangas (beach towels) and Olympic Games paraphernalia. Paul and his mom watched one morning as I joined the locals and jumped off the fortified hillside of Morro do Leme, into the warm turquoise ocean waves.

Whitney Small at a juice stand in Rio

My favorite morning traditions consisted of tucking into one of the suco (juice) stands that line Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. Each morning I was struck with indecision by the various tropical fruits on the counter, many I didn’t even recognize—guava, mango, papaya, odd spiky fruits, and more! The juices and smoothies were so fresh and made for the perfect compliment to our morning exercise regimen.

We knew we couldn’t leave Rio without seeing the incredible Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer), Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), and Parque Nacional Tijuca (National Park Jungle) so we spent a couple days taking in the incredible sights and history of this incredible city.

Whitney Small & Paul Barr at Cristo Redentor, Rio

My favorite site by far was Cristo Redentor. The 98-foot-tall, 700-ton figure, completed in 1931, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. To me, the most impressive thing isn’t Jesus so much as the view that he presides over, a 360-degree panorama of Rio: Sugarloaf, the Bay, the Lagoa, the Maracanã soccer stadium, the highrise hotels and shambling favelas, and beyond it all the Atlantic Ocean… as far as the eye can see.

The highlight of the trip, however, came on our final day in Rio when Mark (Paul’s brother) competed on the World Stage in the sport of triathlon.

Mark Barr, team USA, competing in the triathalon at the Rio paralympics

Photo: Bob Martin for OIS/IOC

We knew Mark was set to finish near the top of the field that morning, but we had no idea just how incredible he would do. We hadn’t seen Mark the entire week we were in Brazil, so when the gun went off, signaling the start of the swim, it seemed surreal and gave us a total rush of adrenaline to see him emerge from the crashing waves, IN FIRST PLACE, far ahead of the rest of the field.

He had a strong bike ride and was only passed by four of the world’s best cyclists! He came off the bike and gained time on every competitor in front of him on the run! We were in total awe and all smiles and tears when he crossed the finish line as the world’s 4th fastest paratriathlete!

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Needless to say, it was the trip of a lifetime, and I left Rio, so inspired by the stories of the athletes competing in the Games. From the jaw-dropping opening ceremonies to the tear-filled victories of the handicapped athletes, my beliefs were totally confirmed that we as humans are truly limitless, and if you put your mind to something, there is absolutely nothing that will stand in your way of achieving that dream. The paralympic athletes are testaments to that and it was life-changing to see such strength, passion, and vision unfold in front of us at the Games.

Whitney Small Overlooking Rio Brazil

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