Cesar Ramirez (© SPIKES)
Just over a year ago Mexican sprinter Cesar Ramirez was poised to make his Olympic debut in Rio, but a stroke of fate prevented the 22-year-old from boarding the plane to Brazil.
Cesar Ramirez has been one of the most consistent Mexican sprinters over the last couple of seasons. In 2015 he was the country’s fastest man over 100m with a 10.30 PB. In 2016 he secured himself a spot for the 200m in Rio, but his Olympic fairytale didn’t turn out the way he’d imagined.
“One month before Rio I noticed something wasn’t right with me,” recalls the now 23-year-old. “I went to get some checks done and that’s when they discovered the problem.”
The diagnosis: testicular cancer.
Ramirez’s first reaction was the realisation “I’m not going to Rio”, but after the initial shock, he knew that he had to put things into perspective.
“I thought, ‘ok, I will miss Rio, but I have the opportunity to save my life and another Olympics will come, 2020 or even later’,” he tells us.
Once the cancer was discovered, things moved swiftly. It only took a week for the doctors to schedule surgery.
“Everything went really fast,” the Sinaloa native explains. “One week between detection, surgery and starting chemotherapy.”
He underwent 15 chemotherapy sessions. Another five were initially scheduled, but his body responded better than expected to the treatment.
“A month later I got the clear that the cancer was gone,” he tells us.
Still, all he could do was watch the Olympics on TV thinking ‘I should be there’. Luckily, family life provided a good distraction. His wife was pregnant with twins – Isabelle and Alexandria arrived in October – and with the world championships in London looming on the horizon he was keen to get back on track as quickly as possible.
“I gradually started getting back into training again. First I couldn’t do anything but walk, then I started jogging slowly and from there I’d gradually increase the pace. Just some slow 100m strides and easy technique until I started to recover.”
In February this year he began to feel like he was ready to race again. Two months later Ramirez pulled on the Mexican vest for the IAAF World Relays.
There was a lot of talk about the 4x100m final in the Bahamas. With Canada, Great Britain and the Netherlands three of the four fastest qualifiers failed to get the baton around when it mattered. For Mexico, though, the main storyline was in the B final.
The country’s relay clocked 39.98 for sixth. In the heats the team recorded 39.71, just 0.39 shy of the Mexican record set 25 years ago. It was the first time in 19 years a Mexican relay had gone sub-40. In the Bahamas, they did it twice in one day.
“I can’t believe I’m already competing in the national vest again,” was Ramirez’s reaction after the final. “Now I dare thinking about London and Tokyo again. Before it seemed so far away.”
It’s not only Ramirez who is excited about his return to the track. Claudia Perez, who was part of the Mexican delegation in Nassau, sees his return and the coming years as an opportunity to grow the nation’s reputation in the relay.
“We didn’t really have a 4x100m relay,” she says. “Now that Cesar is back on his feet, we have a relay again. I think they did a really good job in the B final. Without much training they almost broke the Mexican record. They managed to get the baton round twice, that is very important.”
The other thing speaking for the team is their young age. All four of the relay members who lined up in the Bahamas – Hector Ruiz, Ivan Moreno, Juan Carlos Alanis and Ramirez – are still under 25.
“They are still a very young relay. We’re very proud of them. Of course London is our big goal for them this season, but we’re all looking towards Tokyo,” explains Perez.
“Everybody wants to make it to the Olympics and I think this will really help Mexican athletics in the long term.
“In this part of the world, it’s so tough to be a competitive relay. We have Jamaica, we’ve got Trinidad and Tobago, we’ve got the USA – it’s so difficult to survive even in the Pan American Games. But we try to get up there. It’s a process.”
For Ramirez, the journey back to full fitness is also still ongoing. He clocked a SB 10.45 in April and is confident things are slowly coming together. Yet, he also knows the challenges he’s facing on the track are nothing compared to the ones he’s already overcome.
“I now have check-ups every three months to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. [The doctors] haven’t said whether it might come back or not, they don’t want me to worry too much, I guess. I try not to think about it. If I started worrying about it now, it wouldn’t change anything.
“I’m enjoying life every day, I am enjoying the time with my family – the twins keep me busy.”