Para archer Juan Diego Blas takes new mission on the continental athletes commission

Juan Diego Blas aiming.

The para archer from Guatemala Juan Diego Blas is now turning his energy towards his new role as president of the athletes commission for the Americas Paralympic Committee – a position to which he was elected in March – after failing to reach the Paralympic Games this summer.

Blas came ever so close to qualifying after losing his semifinal to Cameron Radigan in the final qualification tournament for Paris 2024 early March in Dubai, where two quotas were up for grabs.

This result followed further qualification misses in the Pilsen 2023 World Archery Para Championships, finishing 17th where there were 15 quotas, and Santiago 2023 Para Pan American Games, coming fifth where two quotas were available.

Despite these agonising losses, Juan Diego is still hopeful for the Paralympics one day which would mark a rapid rise in archery after only picking the sport up three years ago.

The Guatemalan was born with a congenital absence of the fibular and wears a prosthetic on his right leg.

This failed to stop him from pursuing his dreams as an athlete though as he began his sporting career in basque pelota where he represented Guatemala in five World Championships, two World Cups and two Pan American Games.

“My dad played that sport, so I started as a junior,” he explained. “But there was no para category, so I needed to compete with able-bodied people for around 20 years.”

With basque pelota not being a Paralympic sport and Juan Diego wanting to fulfil his dream of being a Paralympic athlete, the 33-year-old turned to archery after helping organise the first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Guatemala City.

“I was the head of volunteers. They saw that I wore a prosthetic and they invited me to archery. Archery is a little bit more permissive with age than other sports,” he explained.

“Also, throughout my life, I’ve broken 20 different prosthetics because of the high-end nature of basque pelota so another good thing about archery is that you just walk to the arrows.”

Juan Diego Blas celebrating with Samuel Molina.

Although archery is far less energetic than basque pelota, Blas sang the sport’s praises and explained why he loves it so much.

“I like it a lot. It’s very different from other sports, it’s much more mental and very detailed.”

“You must be a perfectionist in every move, but I like it. It has already given me great opportunities and I know it can give me way more.”

One eye of his now, however, will be on his new role as president of the athletes’ commission on the Americas Paralympic Committee.

One athlete from each country in the Americas was nominated for this brand-new position which was then whittled down to five. 

The election for the top five occurred during the Santiago 2023 Para Pan American Games in November, with more internal voting afterwards resulting in Blas being made president and Costa Rican para swimmer Camila Haase elected vice-president in March this year.

“We are talking about doing a lot of diagnosis. First on getting databases on all para athletes representing their countries, what do they expect from a commission, what do they expect from us,” the para archer replied when asked what he plans on implementing during his tenure.

“Also, a forum for any issues they want me to discuss with the board of directors from the committee now that I’m president.”

“We want to organise the first para athlete forums in the Americas. They made one virtually in the pandemic, but we want to do one in Brazil, as the country wants to host the event.”

In addition to this, the 33-year-old intends on creating a protection policy for para athletes to tackle abuse and over-scheduling.

Juan Diego Blas aiming.

Outside of Paralympic commitments, Juan Diego runs a non-governmental organisation, the United Play branch in Guatemala aiming to help young children in his home country.

Having done charity work prior, Blas founded the branch in 2016 alongside United Play international co-founder Tyler Collymore after they met at a United Nations event in Florida.

They started working in these communities, not only donating them sport equipment, but also creating games that taught them values and life skills.

“We play the games with the kids and then we’d sit down afterwards and reflect what values we learnt from these games and how we can apply them to life,” he explained.

Regular philanthropy, competing as an athlete at the highest level and now a president of a commission means you could probably count Juan Diego’s days off in a year on one hand.

The former basque pelota player however isn’t fazed by this heavy workload, some of which isn’t paid and believes it is only right for him to help others rather than focus purely on himself.

“I accepted my disability; I am happy with my disability thanks to sport. Now I need to promote sport for good for everyone.”

“Not only high-end sports but any recreational sport people can participate in. They can learn a lot of values and life skills from it.”

“I believe if we are good people and we focus on helping others, the good opportunities will come also to us.”

One of those opportunities Diego Blas hopes that will come to him in the future is qualifying for his first Paralympic Games and fulfilling a lifelong dream.