In Good Company: Marchistas

Community

This race walking team in Guatemala shows how the sport has become part of the national identity.

Last updated: October 22, 2021
9 min read

In Good Company is a series about athletic teams and clubs that are challenging the status quo.

In Texas, it's American football. In Brazil, it's football. In Guatemala, race walking takes centre stage. Race walking's popularity skyrocketed in Guatemala in 2012 after Erick Barrondo won the silver medal in London in the 20K event—the first Olympic medal in the history of Guatemala. From that catalytic moment, the sport quickly became part of the national consciousness as a way for young people to better themselves and elevate their futures.

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

From left: Abner Pop, Zoe Ruiz, Diana Ruiz, Esmeralda Tiul, Pamela Ruiz

The rules are simple. Proper technique is walking as quickly as possible from a starting line to a finishing line, keeping one foot on the ground and the leading leg straightened at all times. This synchronises the arms and hips, so there's no temptation of "floating" to gain speed. To spectators, this movement can be a goofy sight, but the dynamic hip motion comes naturally to many Guatemalans, who grow up dancing merengue. In fact, some say race walking is like dancing merengue for 10, 20 or 30 miles.

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

From left: Yasuri Palacios, María Peinado, Pedro López, José Oliva, Lisbeth López

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

From left: Abner Pop, Pamela Ruiz, Juan Coy

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

From left: Yasuri Palacios, María Peinado, Pedro López, José Oliva, Lisbeth López

From left: Abner Pop, Pamela Ruiz, Juan Coy

Before Erick's medal, marcha, or race walking, was practised mostly by military forces in Guatemala. The national consciousness around marching was synonymous with war, civil strife and fear. Today, the country boasts several race walking teams, some with athletes as young as 6 years old, and many team members coming from working-class neighbourhoods (50 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty). The connotation has been turned around: marching brings hope, a way into a positive future.

Of the 24 Guatemalan athletes who qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, nine were race walkers. To say the sport is a national linchpin would be an understatement. Over the course of Erick Barrondo's 10-year career, the Guatemalan government invested almost 8 million GTQ (approximately 1 million USD) in his training and sponsorship. Many young race walking athletes receive a monthly scholarship for education and life expenses. Guatemalans see race walking as an opportunity for a better future, a way to break the poverty cycle—one step at a time.

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

Many race walking athletes train on the streets of Guatemala City. From left: Juan Ortíz, Glendy Teletor, Yasuri Palacios, Yaquelin Teletor, Lisbeth López, Maria Peinado

In addition to the hope and physical benefits the sport provides, race walking is more feasible and accessible than many other sports, and it uniquely bonds generations of Guatemalan families, friends and neighbours in ways only team sports can. Though it may seem like an individual effort, race walking takes place in a team environment that is imperative to the experience and ultimately to success in the sport. Training consists of covering distances sometimes as long as 20 miles, and these hours are passed walking alongside teammates who inevitably become akin to family. The team in our film is made up of athletes from diverse backgrounds, a wide range of ages (6 to 25 years old) and many different walks of life. What connects them, regardless of where they came from, is the love of the sport and the determination to always keep one foot on the ground.

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

[Left] From left: Yaquelin Teletor, Gaby Sica, María González, Katherine Marroquín, María Peinado, Lisbeth López, Yasuri Palacios, Glendy Teletor, Sergio Perez, Bryan Matías, Pedro López, Juan Ortíz, José Oliva

[Left] From left: Yaquelin Teletor, Gaby Sica, María González, Katherine Marroquín, María Peinado, Lisbeth López, Yasuri Palacios, Glendy Teletor, Sergio Perez, Bryan Matías, Pedro López, Juan Ortíz, José Oliva [Right] Clockwise from left: Katherine Marroquín, María González, Sergio Perez, Gaby Sica, José Oliva, Ronín Ortiz, Juan Ortíz, Lisbeth López, Pedro López, Yaquelin Teletor, Bryan Matías, Glendy Teletor, María Peinado, Yasuri Palacios

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

Clockwise from left: Katherine Marroquín, María González, Sergio Perez, Gaby Sica, José Oliva, Ronín Ortiz, Juan Ortíz, Lisbeth López, Pedro López, Yaquelin Teletor, Bryan Matías, Glendy Teletor, María Peinado, Yasuri Palacios

Meet the Team

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

Juan Ortíz, José Oliva, Bryan Matías

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

Bryan Matías

Juan Ortíz, José Oliva, Bryan Matías

Bryan Matías

"When I'm competing, I feel the passion for Guatemala. The passion of going head-to-head with competitors for a medal and striving for my future and my country's future".

Bryan Matías, 16 2021 Pan-American Cup champion

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"I want to make history for my country and to show girls and women that any goals you set, no matter how big or small, can be achieved".

Yasuri Palacios, 21 North American, Central American and Caribbean Championship (NACAC) record holder

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"Race walking has given me the chance to interact with different people and that has changed the way I see life. When someone needs support, we're always there. When new teammates join, I share what I know with them. When they have to improve their times, I tell them, 'Come with me, I'll pull you'".

Yaquelin Teletor, 16 2021 Pan-American Cup bronze medallist

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"I really like learning and I really like sports because I train with my uncle. I've never competed, because they say I'm too small for that, but every time I train, I feel like I'm winning".

Zoe Ruiz, 6 The youngest race walker training on the Cobán team

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"I feel very excited in every competition, very happy to be representing my district and my country. It's a great honour. I have always thought that every effort brings me closer to an Olympic podium".

Abner Pop, 14 Central American silver medallist

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"Opportunities are for those who realise them. Dreams have no expiry date".

Glendy Teletor, 19 Race walking alongside her sister Yaquelin for nine years

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

Lisbeth López

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

From left: Lisbeth López, Juan Ortíz

Lisbeth López

From left: Lisbeth López, Juan Ortíz

"I get excited when I compete; I look around, I see people shouting and giving support and I feel emotional because I'm representing my country and my team. There's such pure energy in race walking; we fight for the goals we have and eliminate every obstacle we can".

Lisbeth López, 15 North American, Central American and Caribbean Championship (NACAC) silver medallist

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"What I like most about race walking is that I'm on a team that is not just a team, it's a family. I don't see training as just a sport; I see it as my day-to-day job".

Pedro López, 20 North American, Central American and Caribbean Championship (NACAC) gold medallist

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking
In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

Ronín Ortiz

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

From left: Ronín Ortiz, Mirna Ortiz

Ronín Ortiz

From left: Ronín Ortiz, Mirna Ortiz

"I like having my mum watch me train and for her to see that, thanks to her and all of my family's example, I'm race walking. My mum, her partner [Erick Barrondo] and my cousins are already pros. Since I was little, I've gone to the track and I've always enjoyed observing how my family trained. Now I like knowing that although I've just started, I have a history with the sport".

Ronín Ortiz, 13 First-year race walker and son of Olympian Mirna Ortiz

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"Before I started race walking, I had just small dreams. But race walking has helped me discover what I really want. Before I got into the sport and this community, I would listen to others and change my mind easily but now I'm more decided about who I want to be".

Gabby Sica, 11 Beginner race walker

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

"Football in Guatemala is not that good, and I realised that I could make a bigger impact with race walking. I was inspired by my aunt and cousin who just got back from the Olympics. I struggle a bit with the hip movement but, for me, the sport is in my genes—I had to do it".

Juan Ortíz, 15 Footballer turned race walker

In Good Company: Marchistas Race Walking

From left: Yasuri, José Oliva, María Peinado, Lisbeth López, Pedro López

Words: Julio Serrano Echeverría Photography: Juan Brenner Film: Juan Brenner, Paolo Giron

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