Like most 13-year-olds, Rayssa Leal woke up and began preparing for school. It was an important day because English and literature tests awaited.
She also had to help out with house chores and look after her 7-year-old brother. At some point, she would also have to take care of her dog, a pug named Slink.
But unlike most 13-year-olds, Leal also had to touch base with her staff and squeeze in a Zoom interview before her classes. She was also already looking ahead to her next “work trip” coming up in a few days.
Life has been anything but normal for the Brazilian teenager who became an overnight sensation after winning a silver medal at the Olympics’ inaugural skateboarding competition in Tokyo a few months ago.
With her broad smile and uncanny charisma, Leal quickly conquered the hearts of Brazilians, and instantly nearly everything changed from what used to be an ordinary lifestyle.
“My life changed suddenly,” Leal told The Associated Press from her home in Maranhão state in the country’s northeastern region. “Going to the mall or the supermarket is not the same as it was before, there’s always someone who recognizes me, who wants an autograph or a photo. It’s really cool.”
The sport of skateboarding also changed significantly in Brazil, thanks in great part to Leal’s feat in Tokyo.
Interest in the sport grew across the country with sales of skateboards rising everywhere. Requests for classes skyrocketed and new schools popped up in many neighborhoods. Increased interest from young girls was especially noticed.
“I’m seeing a lot of girls starting in the sport, saying that they want to be like us and that they want to try to go to the Olympics like us,” Leal said. “I’m supper happy with that because skateboarding used to be marginalized. You didn’t use to see many girls in the sport.”
Leal said the “world opened up for us” after the Tokyo Games.
“We were able to change the way people looked at skateboarding,” she said. “That is very gratifying. This is very important. A lot has changed and that makes us very happy.”
Leal said she doesn’t think interest in the sport will start declining with time. She has her own plans to set up a skateboarding school to help get more girls involved.
Leal won the International Olympic Committee’s Visa Award for sportsmanship in Tokyo and donated the $50,000 prize to a local non-profit organization called Social Skate.
She has a few more days of normalcy to enjoy in Maranhão before traveling again for “work,” first to São Paulo to receive an award and then to Miami to start competing again.
Until then, there will be more chores to do and exams to take. And some more free time to take Slink for a walk — or a ride, as “he loves going on skateboards too,” said Leal, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian and opening a clinic to help animals.
“I want to be a veterinarian but I still want to be a skateboarder,” she said. “I don’t really know how I’m going to be able to do all that, but I’ll try.”
Whatever happens in her future, Leal will likely be there smiling. For now, she’s just enjoying the ride.
“Everything that has been happening to me has been super cool,” she said.
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