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Irene Villa: Never Too Late

Spanish athlete, journalist, speaker, activist and author, Irene Villa, recently presented her first novel, Never Too Late, Princess (Nunca es demasiado tarde, princesa) to packed audiences and members of the media. Much to her dismay, most people still associate her name with the violent terrorist attack that lead to the loss of both her limbs and three fingers in one hand, when she was just 12 years old (in 1992). Irene’s mother, who also lost an arm and a leg that fateful day, was working for the police force at the time; one day, as she was about to drive her daughter to school, a bomb placed in their car by terrorist group, ETA (who seek independence for the Basque country from the rest of Spain), changed life as the Villa family knew it. Irene recalls that her first thoughts when she awoke in the emergency department of a hospital were to thank God that the accident had not affected her spine.

Less than six months later, Irene would travel in a plane for the first time in her life, heading for London to receive a special prize awarded personally by Lady Diana. Irene told the press that before the accident, she had always wanted to be a journalist when she grew up; yet now that she had met so many journalists, she wasn’t so sure. One thing she did know was that she wanted her life to be filled with adventure, travel and music… as an adult, she would not let her disability prevent her from travelling to the furthest corners of the globe as a member of Spain’s first Paralympic adapted skiing team. Skiing allowed her to give free reign both to her need to discover new countries and to continuously raise the bar for herself as an athlete. “The fact that it was such a difficult sport made me determined to master it,” she said. Her track record speaks for itself; in 2011, she was Champion of the Spanish Cup (chair modality) and in March 2013, she was the Spanish Champino in the slalom category, as well as runner up in the Super Giant and Giant slalom events. If you thought her skiing accomplishments were impressive, you may be surprised to learn that before taking up this sport, she also came in second in the Spanish Cup for Wheelchair Fencing (in 2006). Irene admits to suffering from frequent injuries, yet chalks the latter to the risky nature of her sport. In 2008, she suffered from a cervical herniated disc which forced her to undergo surgery and have a Bryan cervical disc prosthesis placed. “Just another scar in my collection,” she states, “once again, a doctor (and titanium) have been my saviours”.

One day before her life-changing meeting with Princess Dianna, Irene tried on her first set of prosthetic limbs. “When I saw myself with legs again, I could not believe it,” she beamed. Irene refused to be a victim: “No matter how many people the terrorists kill, they won’t achieve anything” she says.

Fast forward to 2013 and Irene, now a wife and mother, has three degrees to her name – she did, in the end, pursue a degree in Journalism and also studied Psychology, Humanities and Audiovisual Communication. Additionally, she is an accomplished author. Her first book, Saber Que Se Puede (Know You Can) contains powerful recollections and reflections about her life-changing accident. Her latest novel, Nunca es demasiado tarde, princesa, is a compendium of stories about six different people who each have their own cross to bear (some of the issues which plague the protagonists are eating disorders, illness, addiction, a lack of self-esteem)… Irene wishes to share the many things she has in common with those who seemingly have less much less dramatic lives. One never knows, she says, when the world as we know it can be turned upside down by forces beyond our control.

In her maturity, Irene often says she wishes to disassociate herself completely from the terrorist group, ETA. She has forgiven her attackers, she says, since “Vengeance will make you happy only one day; forgiveness is the only way to lasting happiness”. Her accident, after all, occurred when she was a 12-year-old girl; today, she feels that her just reward for a life filled with sacrifice, work and effort, is her new son… and she has so many future goals she wishes to achieve. “When there is desire, consistency and hard work, there is little a human being cannot achieve,” she says, “and there is little we cannot overcome”.