The journey of climber Erik Noya to flee the violence in Venezuela and become world runner-up with Spain
Erik Noya, on June 4 at the speed wall mounted in the Plaza de España in Madrid.
Erik Noya, on June 4 at the speed wall mounted in the Plaza de España in Madrid.Samuel Sanchez

Erik Noya is 28 years old. His father and his grandparents are Galician. His great-grandfather had a printing press in A Guarda (Pontevedra) and published anti-Franco material. His grandparents suffered from the post-war famine and emigrated to Venezuela. There, in Caracas, Erik was born and raised. There, at the age of six, he tried climbing for the first time and it was “love at first sight”. From there he had to flee in 2017. “It is a country where they kill you for food, you can be shot for carrying your cell phone in the street, where weapons are the order of the day for anyone.” Not for him. “My life is not throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. I should have left there long before. I was living in a situation with a lot of violence around, hatred and resentment. I am convinced that he was in a depression and did not even know it. I lived with my parents, I felt like a burden. I did not know what was going to happen in my life and I trusted politicians who prophesied a change soon. I risked my life going to supposedly peaceful protests where we raised our hands and what we got back was tear gas, buckshot, pepper spray. Being in that environment turned me into a violent and irritable person. There was no light, I felt dead in life”, he confesses.

The only time he stopped climbing, in fact, was in the two years before he left Caracas. “Because of the crisis, because the Federation there went to hell, because we were living in a country where everything was unsustainable. As an athlete he was not going to get anywhere, ”he relates.

He landed in Madrid at the age of 23 with nothing more than his studies in Economics and Business. He settled in his godmother’s house. The first thing he did was walk all night. “Being able to walk without fear was spectacular, and to do it by taking out your cell phone. In Caracas it was impossible. I remember that I found two euros on the ground and I said to myself: ‘Look, I just arrived in Spain and I just got the minimum salary I would have received in Venezuela. That made me realize a lot of things.”

He sought life as best he could because, he says, “the blood always has to flow.” The 518 euros of the pension of the Returned Emigrant in Spain that corresponded to him was invested in an academy to oppose firefighter. He did not stop climbing, even though he had to train at midnight after endless days of work, even though he no longer had the strength, he says, to put on the washing machine. He was a Glovo delivery man, instagramer -of giving physical preparation classes through social networks-, he convened other face-to-face classes in the Retiro Park and charged each attendee five euros, he was a technician in climbing walls and gave classes to children at birthday parties.

When you are an emigrant you become minimalism at its best: this is what I have, this is what I am, and with this I have to move forward

The Madrid Federation, to which he went to seek help and to tell him that he was “good at this” gave him a cable. In 2018 he won the Spanish Cup, the first official competition held in the speed category. Today he is runner-up in the world, third in the ranking and one of the Spanish tricks in climbing for the Paris 2024 Games. The Olympic ranking starts right at the end of this month (24 athletes will qualify: 12 men and 12 women). Unlike Tokyo, where climbing combined the modalities of block, difficulty and speed, in Paris, speed will have its own competition and medal (block and difficulty, together, another).

Freckles and a permanent smile light up Noya’s face. She has left behind her nightmares, the “darkness” as he calls it. He is happy because the silver at the 2021 Moscow World Cup opened the doors for him to the Sant Cugat High Performance Center and a scholarship. For the first time, he does not have to combine elite sports with work days. “For the first time I train every day of the week, they wash my clothes, they make me food, I have a nutritionist, physiotherapy, sports psychologist.” And so, carefreeyou can dedicate yourself exclusively to climbing.

“I’m going to fail you, but I can’t anymore”

He was about to throw in the towel just before that World Cup, he ran out of income and did not give him life for more. “I called David. [Macià, seleccionador y su mentor] and I told him: ‘I’m leaving it, I can’t take it anymore. Forgive me for failing you.’ She understood and told me to take the accumulated knowledge with me and that we go to the World Cup to enjoy it. And I went to that and leave my skin. I don’t know how to explain the feeling I had in that competition: of liberation, of love for what I do, of facing the injustice of life”.

How can results be achieved having to combine work with elite sports? “If I’m honest, that can’t be done. That’s a lie. And it is unfeasible. Mine was a total exception. The planets have to align for that to happen and I don’t know if it’s worth it. I don’t want that to serve as an example, but rather to be something anecdotal so that people never lower their arms”, answers Noya, who as a child did everything: swimming, soccer, painting, basketball, surfing, kite. His parents, she says, wanted him to play a sport because it meant having a happy childhood.

He is moved now when he remembers what he lived through, what he has left behind, how difficult it was to move forward with his parents far away and without a penny. “What people don’t understand is that when you’re a migrant you don’t lead a normal life. You can’t go out partying, or afford to buy something, or go to restaurants or beers. When you are an emigrant you become minimalism at its best: this is what I have, this is what I am, and with this I have to push forward as long as necessary. You focus on working and training and see if at some point a door opens for you”.

He tells everything out of the blue in a talk of almost an hour, sitting in the shade of the few trees that remain in the Plaza de España in Madrid. He only stops because he gets so excited that he sheds a few tears. It’s Saturday June 4th and it’s suffocatingly hot, it’s also the weekend in which the Spanish Climbing Cup is held. Doors have been opened to Noya because she has never stopped trying. Because he says that in the midst of darkness and depression, climbing was his light. “That light I held on to when I got here.”

He is proud of having achieved it. Macià, the coach who arrived in January 2019 and who, in addition to making Alberto Ginés grow, set up a group of sprinters around Erik, says of him that the first time he saw him he immediately realized that he fit the profile of an athlete who is always looking. And this is how he sums it up: “for me, the coach-athlete relationship has to be honest and affective because if it is like that, everything works better. It helps not to mistrust, to value each other mutually and to believe in the effort”.

Erik Noya, in the Plaza de España in Madrid on Saturday, June 4.
Erik Noya, in the Plaza de España in Madrid on Saturday, June 4. Samuel Sanchez

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