Each village has its own history, and there are always priceless treasures in it. These jewels have high patrimonial, cultural or natural relevance, and in many cases, this relevance is also human and reflects in the life and work of their most illustrious children.

Viñales dazzles visitors with its countless charms. Beyond the remarkably unusual nature of its valley and its mogotes (flat-topped hummocks or buttes), there are dissimilar reasons its habitants should be proud of. As a matter of fact, from every corner of Viñales geography, we find touching life stories as a result of the mark left by its illustrious children.

Today we discuss the life of Yarisley Silva Rodríguez, since this unique place of Cuban geography holds a special value for the best Cuban pole vaulter of all times. Born on June 1st, 1987, this amazing Cuban sportswoman grew up and lived most of her life on the 4th kilometer of the road from Pinar del Río to Viñales.

Yarisley is an icon of contemporary sports in the island and has secured a place in the rich Cuban athletism history. She has been a protagonist in the most relevant results of Cuban track and field in the last decade of the XXI century, by achieving two World Titles (Sopot 2014 and Beijing 2015), two Pan American Titles (Guadalajara 2011 and Toronto 2015) and one Olympic Games silver medal (London 2012).

This short girl, only 5.2 feet tall, started from an early age to practice one of the most complex sports. With her incredible success, she managed to place our island on the world map of this discipline at a global level.

Before becoming an athlete, Yarisley tried other paths. Being a Cuban girl, the true passion for dancing is in her genes, so she was encouraged by her aunt María Caridad Rodríguez to tackle ballet. Her physical complexion did not allow her to reach that longed-for dream though.

“The first thing we thought about was ballet, and every day we did a lot of stretching exercises until we decided to go for the trials. I was eight years old and remember myself being very excited about it, but the teacher told me that I had a tendency to gain weight and that I did not have the rightbody type to become a ballerina. Instead, she suggested I should try other dances.”

At the age of thirteen she approached for the first time the sports that would make her become such a successful athlete. By that time, she was only familiar with the basic elements of this practice, learned thanks to Professor Nilo, in her native Pinar del Río.

“Nilo explained the basics to me: you just need to grab the vaulting pole like this, then you run, jump, and you’re done. In my first attempt I managed to get over 2.50m and I felt very good. It was fun, exciting, and I got hooked on that sports, that was completely new to me.”

Two years later, thisgirl from Viñales Valley enrolled in the national team under the aegis of Alexander Navas, the coach who has advised her on her global rise.

The beginnings of this duo, who has been together for more than fifteen years, were not easy at all. They had to overcome multiple obstacles to work their way to the top. Life blows teach, harden, forge the character, and Yarisley has made the most of them. It seemed as if even luck had turned its back on her, and she even thought of giving up…

“Those were really tough times. I went into a shock that lasted all of 2008. I couldn’t take off, I would stand in the lane and all I could see was a massive wall in front of me. I can’t quite find the words to explain exactly what that meant. When in the field, all I did was run, through the box and over the mattress. I went to Beijing feeling that way, running like that, and eventually I realized that I wasn’t even good at running. I took off once and jumped 4.15m, but then I couldn’t do anything else.”

“In 2009, I again surpassed 4.50mbut there weren’t many opportunities either. At the end of the year a competition in Colombia came up and I was given the chance to enter. I was very excited, and so was Navas. He told me that it was our moment and that everything was going to be all right, my hopes were very high, but I never got to go to that competition. I remember being in the lobby of the stadium, with my suitcase all packed when the Commissioner came and told me I was not going, because I would not be on time for the competition.The news hit me like a bucket of cold water. At times like these, so many things come to your mind.”

They say that after a storm comes a calm, and in this particular case, the path to success began. In 2011, Silva and Lázaro Borges, from Havana,brought the first great results for pole vault in Cuba. They both won medals at Guadalajara Pan American Games in 2011. There Yarisley defeated Brazilian Fabiana Murer, world champion of that year in Daegu, Korea. Borges, on the other hand, set a new national record and won the world runner-up spot with a jump of 5.90m.

“Going to Guadalajara Pan American Games in 2011 was the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had. There for the first time I felt that the whole audience encouragedme and cheered for me. I came to Mexico, as you know, to try to get the silver medal (although internally I had the feeling I could win the gold medal) because I had to face Murer (Fabiana Murer) who had just won the world championship; but in the end I did it, I won the gold medal and to tell the truth, it was incredible. It was a very excitingevening, I felt really good, so good that I took it too far and jumped 4.75m (laughs). That Pan American competition, from all points of view, was exceptional.”

A year later, she would win the most important medal of her career. As she previously mentioned, London was the venue for the Olympic Games where this short girl from Pinar del Río was looking for an interesting result.

“Without going deeperinto what it means to be a runner-up, which is my most cherished triumph, I was very happy to be there. I was proud to be the first Cuban woman to compete at a pole vault final, to have the responsibility of showing the result of so many years of sacrifice.”

Yarisley Silva during a training in Havana
Yarisley Silva during a training in Havana

The laureate athlete from Pinar del Río now lives in the capital of all Cubans, some 200 kilometers from her native Pinar del Río, but she always finds the time to go back to her origins and her village.

“Pinar is my home. People know this and welcome me with great love. On one occasion when I returned from the World Cup, people from Pinar del Rio organized a beautiful welcoming party for me. They took me to several municipalities and I was really surprised how people would leave whatever they were doing to come and see me, they didn’t know whether to hug me, or to congratulate me…”

This princess of pole vaulting is a very sensitive woman, her years of sacrifice and the cheering crowd make her think of the past and the rough road to deserve the appreciation of her homeland. Tears begin to appear, during her Beijing recount she had been on the verge of tears, but now she is very moved, her voice quavers and cracks. She needs to pause – and then she starts again to recall what happened in some of those events.