12 Jun Rios Tropicales Makes Big News at the 2019 World Rafting Championship
by Shannon Farley
Led by President and CEO Rafael Gallo, Rios Tropicales sponsored both the Under-19 Men’s Team from Costa Rica and the Colombian Rafting for Peace Team. Additionally, Gallo received unanimous ratification of his title of IRF Honorary President from the IRF Congress.
Over 400 competitors and support crew from 19 nations participated in the 2019 WRC at the Tully Gorge National Park in Queensland, northern Australia from May 13 to 20.
“It was very rewarding to connect with river runners from all over the world, especially those who have come to Costa Rica and worked for Rios Tropicales at different times over the years,” said Gallo. “And it is very satisfying to inspire a new generation of rafting athletes and guides, as with the Costa Rica U19 Men’s Team and the Colombian Peace Team.”
Rafael Gallo Unanimously Ratified as first IRF Honorary President
Commending his decades of involvement, achievements and integral role in the formation and development of the IRF, Gallo was nominated as the first IRF Honorary President last year by current IRF President Joe Willis Jones. In May 2018, the IRF Board of Directors provisionally bestowed the title on Gallo, who is also an International Whitewater Hall of Fame (IWHOF) honoree.
During the two-day IRF Congress at the WRC in Australia, representatives of the 19 nations in attendance unanimously voted to make the title official. Honorary presidents primarily serve as an IRF Ambassador, under the direction of the IRF President, and may continue in this role while they remain active in the IRF.
“Everyone who takes part in the rafting sport today is beholden to the dedication and effort of those that worked to create it. Rafa’s years of service to rafting and to the IRF put us all in his debt. Without Rafa, it is likely that the IRF would not exist,” said IRF President Jones in 2018 when he nominated Gallo for the position.
“As a past president who was also extremely instrumental in getting the IRF started, he is deserving of this title. He ran the team that led the first-ever carbon neutral sporting world championship event, the IRF’s 2011 WRC (in Costa Rica). Although he is no longer on the Board of Directors he still works as an ambassador for the IRF and assists the Board of Directors when his experience or contacts are needed,” reads the official IRF statement from the 2019 Congress.
“As a 35-year leader in rafting, it’s very rewarding to continue making an impact in the sport of rafting on the world stage,” said Gallo. “And it’s a great honor as the owner of Rios Tropicales to be a top member of the International Rafting Federation.”
Costa Rica Under-19 Men’s Team Wins Two Medals at the 2019 WRC
Competing for the first time in a world rafting championship, the Under-19 Men’s Team from Costa Rica battled against top international rafting athletes to win two medals at the 2019 WRC in Australia.
Named the Turrialba Juvenile Team, the athletes all hail from the town of Turrialba, a hub for rafting the rivers of Costa Rica’s Caribbean region. The six-man team won the Rios Tropicales Cup national rafting championship in September on the Pacuare River and the right to represent Costa Rica at the WRC in Australia. The national competition was organized by the Costa Rica Sports Association for Adventure and Paddling (ADAR), the IRF representative in Costa Rica.
With the help of their main sponsor, Rios Tropicales, the juvenile team traveled in early May 9,070 miles (14,596 km) from Costa Rica to the Tully River in Queensland. There, they competed in the rafting events of sprint, head-to-head, slalom and downriver.
Challenging top world level teams like Australia, the Czech Republic and Indonesia, the Costa Rica U19 Men’s Team won a silver medal in the exciting head-to-head competition, and a bronze medal in the grueling downriver event.
Rios Tropicales is proud to sponsor the Turrialba Juvenile Team, and congratulates the athletes: Joaksene Bustos Contreras, Enrique Segura Gould, Sergio Jimenez Hernandez, Jose Ricardo Contreras Quiros, Johel Andres Quesada Sandi, and David Marcelo Omodeo Valderrama.
“They were excellent representatives of Costa Rica, not only on the river but also in the athletes’ village. They were friendly, good sportsmen, cooperative, and really helped out their fellow Colombian team that only spoke Spanish,” commented Gallo.
It was only eight years ago at the 2011 IRF World Rafting Championship in Costa Rica that juvenile under-19 teams first competed.
“Sponsoring a young team is inspiring for the future,” said Gallo. “The first-ever youth world rafting championship took place in Costa Rica in 2011, and now we are seeing the fruits of that with young athletes from all over the world coming to compete at these championship events.”
Colombian Rafting for Peace Team Makes History at the 2019 WRC
Leading off the newly created IRF Global Peace Initiative, the Colombian Rafting for Peace Team defied all odds to make history at the IRF 2019 World Rafting Championship in Australia.
Led by their coach, Rafael Gallo, and sponsored by Rios Tropicales, among many others, the seven-man and one-woman team captured the world’s hearts with their incredible story of converting from war to peace and “trading guns for paddles.” Brand new to rafting, having only been introduced to the sport and trained as river guides seven months prior, the Colombian team came to Australia under a banner of peace and competed against the best rafting teams in the world.
They have been honored in Colombia by top government officials and United Nations representatives and have been celebrated in that nation’s media as symbols of hope and reconciliation in a country recovering from 52 years of civil war.
Composed of five ex-guerrillas from the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym of FARC) and three members of the Miravalle community in San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá Department, the entire group was invited to compete at the IRF World Rafting Championship on the Tully River. One team member was unable to travel, so only eight went to Australia.
In his role as IRF Honorary President, Gallo extended the invitation to the group in November 2018 when he attended their “graduation” of being certified as rafting guides by the IRF. Gallo had been invited last August by the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia – in charge of ensuring the reintegration of former FARC guerrillas into Colombian society in accordance with the 2016 Final Peace Agreement – to assess the viability of developing a commercial rafting operation on the Pato River in Miravalle. He then orchestrated a six-week intensive training in rafting practices and river safety for the nine ex-combatants and local community members by sending two of his top IRF instructors and raft guides with Rios Tropicales, Roy Obando and Max Solano, to Colombia.
“I am so proud to have been one of the persons who helped make this possible,” said Gallo. “I met this incredible group of people who wanted to recover their lives back in society through rafting. In November, I saw them so excited to receive guiding certificates from the International Rafting Federation. And I thought it can’t be over like this. So, I invited them to come to Australia and we developed a peace initiative for the IRF. Their eyes lit up! The world to them had just become so big. They were born in the jungle and their dream was to go to Bogota. They ended up flying halfway around the world to Australia!”
Gallo and members of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Miravalle spearheaded a massive funding campaign to pay for the team’s trip and expenses to Australia. The U.S. company MTI Life Jackets donated all the life jackets for both the Colombian Rafting for Peace Team and the Costa Rican U19 Men’s Team.
When the Colombian team arrived in Australia, they were welcomed warmly by groups of Colombians living there. Colombian expats came to support the team on the Tully River and hosted them at other locations after the WRC ended. “The team’s reception in Australia was marvelous. Everyone is fascinated by their story,” said Gallo.
“For them to be beginners competing alongside world champions in a difficult river, and to have these champion teams helping them, has sparked incredible inner confidence among the team members,” he added.
The Colombian rafting team not only challenged themselves competing against the best rafting teams in the world, they also overcame language barriers of only speaking Spanish and communicating with people from 18 other nations. On a day off during the WRC, they took a day trip to the coast and stood on a beach in front of the ocean for the first time in their lives. And they learned what it feels like to be part of a larger world.
Gallo is no stranger to peace initiatives and rafting. In 1989, he took part in the Project RAFT (Russians and Americans for Teamwork) Chuya Rally in Siberia. More than 50 rafting teams from 13 nations participated in the first international rafting competition.
“In Siberia, we saw precisely how the sport of rafting could help overcome the biggest differences between people,” he said. “In rafting, it does not matter what your political, economic or religious beliefs are. You have to paddle together to get through difficult rapids. It doesn’t matter who you are when you have to work together as a team.”
Now, carrying the movement forward in Colombia, Gallo said he intends to continue the IRF Global Peace Initiative and hopefully share the message of rafting for peace in other countries. “People can see that rafting can not only have an impact on the environment and communities with conservation and carbon neutral events, but also can be a model for world peace. We need to spread this mission around the world.”