Unstoppables tells the amazing story of a group of incredible, passionate and socially committed cyclists who call themselves the “Pirates Team”.
The Film starts at the Barcelona Velodrome, where team members train together in spite of their different capacities and objectives. Some are happy to train to stay in shape while others aspire to Olympic gold. And others, having recently become disabled, have just joined the team.
The film’s plot develops along two main narrative threads: the main plot focuses on the preparation, participation and homecoming of Juanjo Méndez and Raquel Acinas in the 2012 London Paralympics.
Juanjo and Raquel are two of our heroes. Twenty years ago Juanjo lost both his left arm and left leg in a traffic accident. Then he decided to start cycling. Some people might have thought he was mad at the time, but two decades later he is the World Champion and he will participate this summer on his third Paralympic Games. Amongst his numerous trophies he cherishes his six Olympic medals. In London 2012, at 48yo, he is a favourite to win Gold.
In the subplot we follow our secondary characters, amongst them Elisa, who got on a bike for the first time recently after having lost one leg severak years ago. One day, as she was feeling sorry for herself in her car, Juanjo – one arm, one leg – raced past her as they were stopped at traffic lights. Elise then told the friend she was travelling with: “If I ever feel sorry for myself again, remind me of this moment”. Weeks later she found Juanjo and the “Pirates Team” and she started cycling as well. After just nine months of training she was one tenth of a second short from winning bronze at the Spanish Cycling Championships in 2012.
The film shows unique moments in the lives of these characters, with a wealth of dramatic situations, life lessons, development of relationships and unforgettable characters.
Juanjo Méndez is the “Pirate” team’s co-founder and its natural leader. He is the person who shows the rest of the team the way forward. Living proof of what can be achieved with determination, hard work and a positive attitude, Juanjo enjoys helping others overcome the mental barriers that could prevent them from living life to the full, particularly those who have lived through experiences similar to his own.
In 1992, Juanjo fainted while he was on his motorbike and crashed into a car. He lost his left arm and leg. He initially went through a period of great despair, and noticing that his inactivity was making him gain weight at an alarming rate, he began to ponder whether there was some sport he could do. He ruled out cycling for what he considered obvious reasons, until one day his doctor said: to him “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Try, and decide for yourself.”
Today Juanjo is one of the world’s top Paralympic cyclists (2011 World Champion, Silver in Athens 2004 and Peking 2008). He has a good chance of winning Olympic Gold at the 2012 London Games.
He altruistically supports and supervises training sessions with disabled people and, as the films shows, he has a soft spot for Manelet and the junior BMX team.
When you ask him to pose for a photo he bursts out laughing and challenges the photographer: “Make sure you get a full body shot!”
Bernat Moreno is the coach, manager, and co-founder of the team along with Juanjo, whom he knew before the accident. He is in charge of planning and supervising all training sessions. He also looks after the administrative aspects of the club and applies his DIY skills and imagination to adapt the few available bicycles to the needs of the cyclists. Circumstances have turned him into a self-taught expert in motor physics and applied aerodynamics.
Bernat is the man in the shadows who helps make the personal and sporting successes of the club members possible. He and Juanjo were clear about their project and their dream from the start: to create a club that gives people – disabled or otherwise – the opportunities that Juanjo had to fight so hard to have.
Unflaggingly enthusiastic about the sporting potential of his cyclists, Bernat has been mulling over a new challenge: to create the first Spanish women’s Paralympic cycling team.
Raquel sees Juanjo as her mentor, but in spite of their mutual affection and respect, Raquel is not one to keep things bottled up inside. So their conversations and arguments, even as they pedal around the track, which are captured on camera, are often very amusing to behold.
Raquel lost a leg in a traffic accident, amputated at the thigh, and like most of the team she races without any prosthesis. Off track Raquel wears a prosthetic limb making her disability almost unnoticeable.
She combines training sessions and competitions with her work as an architect at a studio in Barcelona. Her vitality and enthusiasm are infectious, and her cheerful, straightforward nature makes her a wonderful character. Following Raquel in the lead-up to the Games is an exciting prospect: she is currently World number two and, following four years of tough training after qualifying in the top ten at Beijing, she was a strong contender for the podium at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
She combines training sessions and competitions with her work as an architect at a studio in Barcelona. Her vitality and enthusiasm are infectious, and her cheerful, straightforward nature makes her a wonderful character. Following Raquel in the lead-up to the Games is an exciting prospect: she is currently World number two and, following four years of tough training after qualifying in the top ten at Beijing, she is a strong contender for the podium at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
She is very excited at the prospect of being part of the first Spanish women’s Paralympic cycling team. The idea of taking part with cyclists who are below her level and the consequences that this may have on her own ranking do not matter to her in the least. She wants to use her own experiences to help other women in a similar situation realise that sport is a way of regaining self-confidence.
Elisa is the new girl in the team. Her journey to becoming one of the “Pirates” began one day she was stuck in traffic in a car with a friend, feeling sorry for herself, and spotted Juanjo cycling along the road, racing past them. She then turned to her friend and told her: “If you ever hear me complaining again, remind me of this moment.”
Elisa lost a leg as a result of cancer when she was a teenager. She managed to beat the illness and take a job as a nurse. But what she calls her “true inner revolution” began a few months ago when she found herself at the Velodrome. Her initial idea was to be able to ride a bike around Barcelona and now – shy though excited — she admits that she can’t quite believe how much she is achieving.
She started working out at the gym in April 2011 and by July she was getting on a bike for the first time. Bernat (the Pirates’ coach) thinks she has great potential so he pushes her harder. He and the rest of the team intend to get her to qualify to be included as a member of the first Spanish women’s Paralympic team.
Following the ups and downs of Elisa, who represents what all of the others went through when they started out, gives the film a counterpoint to the journey of the other cyclists.
A childhood sarcoma affected the growth of one of Manel’s legs, leaving it shorter than the other. A doctor told him that he needed to undergo multiple operations which would require a long recovery and could not guarantee anything more than a slight palliative effect.
He immediately thought of his friend Juanjo and decided to talk to him before deciding whether to have the operation. Juanjo did not think twice about it and advised Manel: “Get rid of your leg.”
After turning it over in his mind and talking to doctors, he decided to do just that. Some days later Manel turned up at the Velodrome with just one leg. He was ready to train and taste what was, for him, a new and unexpected freedom. He said that he hadn’t lost a leg, he had gained a hand: the one that now had to carry a crutch.
Now he comes to the Velodrome as often as he can. When he is not at his job as a telecoms engineer or at the Velodrome he visits local hospitals to talk to young cancer patients and tell them about his own experiences Just by being there he gives them hope, as living proof that it is possible to have a full and happy life in spite of serious illness and its after effects.
Aside from competing at the club, Juanjo also supervises and trains the junior BMX team, including ten-year-old twins Guillen and Juval. The latter has an amputated leg, but this does not affect his enormous energy – so much so that he often leaves his brother trailing.
Juanjo describes Juval as a born athlete. Observing the two brothers makes it clear that the only things that prevent us from reaching our goals are determination and willpower and we are not always a victim of our circumstances.
Manelet is an autistic, nine year old boy with cerebral palsy. To his parent’s joy and surprise, Juanjo has taught him to ride a bike. Manelet loves spending an hour a week on a bicycle, and his cycling skills and ability to communicate have improved as a result.
For Juanjo, as he says, Manelet’s improvement, since he started going to the Velodrome and spending time with him, are much more fulfilling to him than any Olympic medal could be.
The main characters are joined by many others, including:
CRISTINA, the first female member of the club, who has returned, eager to be part of the first Spanish women’s Paralympic team.
RODRI, affectionately known as “The Junior”, because at 88yo he never misses a training session and boasts of never having being sick a day in his life.
AGUST, who looks after the equipment and is the comedian of the group.
JOANETTI, the physiotherapist who has helped make many of the achievements of his team mates possible.
XAVI RUBIO, a musician-cyclist with a larger than life personality, whose main concern right now is to find a job in this crisis-stricken country.