The small airplane began its descent to Nosara’s airport. Jimena was coming from San Jose, and the first thing she saw through the window was a giant blue, white, and red flag. When she could see more clearly, she was surprised that the Nosara community was waiting for her around the landing strip with horns, whistles, flags, shouts, banners and cheers.
The girl whom the town had watched grow up taming the waves of Nosara with a prosthetic leg had made history the day before. In December of 2021, Jimena won a gold medal representing the country at the International Surfing Association (ISA) Adaptive Surfing World Championships in Pizmo Beach, California.
Once on land, she hugged her mom, who wrapped her with the huge flag while the community shouted her name over and over again. Jimena got up on Nosara’s firetruck and paraded through the town’s streets in a caravan with tuktuks, cars and motorcycles.
“I did not expect an arrival like this,” Jimena said almost three months after that day. “It was very exciting because there were my classmates, people I know and people I don’t know waiting to greet me.” What captivated her most were the drawings that students from her school had done in her honor.
Jimena was born on October 20, 2006 with a malformation in her left leg, which forced doctors to amputate part of it. That early on, Jimena began to surf through the barriers that her life would present her, driven by her courage and that of her parents, Maricruz Rojas and Helberth Ruiz.
Surfing in the Veins
When Jimena was born, her parents quickly began to teach her that she would achieve everything she set out to do as long as she worked for it. “At eight months, we put on the first prosthesis. What I wanted most was for her to walk by one year old like a normal girl,” her mother recalled.
Pushing her on was the first step. The second was to let people know that pitying words and looks were not welcome. “We always struggled a lot in the family so that she wouldn’t feel that ‘poor thing.’ We didn’t want her to grow up in an environment of pity,” said Maricruz.
The formula worked. Jimena walked when she was one year old, practically four months after beginning to adapt to her first prosthesis. “Later she rode a bicycle and managed to play all the sports without any problem, like any other person,” her mother recalled. What they admired the most when she was little was the great balance she had.
Jimena can’t say when she fell in love with surfing. It seems that she has always had it with her in her DNA, that she inherited it from her parents, a couple who love the ocean and the challenging waves of Nosara.
Those are the first memories that I have,” said Jimena with her ever-present smile and her slanted eyes. They are her earliest memories of her entire life. “My parents like to surf and they have always liked the water.”
But there is one memory that really left a mark, and that was the day she knew that dominating the waves was her thing. “I went with my dad to the ocean. I was about seven or eight years old, and it was the first time my dad took me out [into the water],” she recalls.
They swam and swam farther and deeper into the water, until she managed to ride her first big wave. “That left a mark on me because it was a very nice experience that my dad took me out,” Jimena recalled.
When she was 10 years old, a coach from the National Adaptive Surfing Team saw her and told her parents to sign her up on the team.
“I told them no because she was very young, that we would see and if she wanted to later, I would sign her up,” said Maricruz. But Jimena began to train with her father, her instructor in life and in surfing, as if she was going to compete since then.
That’s what they did for three years, until she turned 13, when she began to collect medals. It was as if she had been born for it.
At that age, she debuted in a Para Surfing World Championship and won the bronze medal in her category. In September of 2021, at the age of 14, she won the silver medal at the 2021 Super Girl Surf Pro championship.
At the Adaptive Surfing U.S. Open in September of 2021, she won third place in Juniors in her category of below-the-knee injury. And recently, in December, she won her first gold.
In that last tournament, when she was competing, her mother, Maricruz, couldn’t help but see everything they had navigated to get there, like a movie playing in front of her eyes.
I began to think about from the moment she was born and I was invaded by that feeling of achievement and effort that we achieved together to raise her without limits and impediments,” she said. “She teaches me a lot of things that I don’t even know about life.”
Jimena is now fifteen years old and studies through distance learning. She is a disciplined teenager with her study and training schedules. She couldn’t accomplish it any other way.
“The sport I’m doing is not easy,” she reaffirmed. “But I always learned that I have to improve myself and never give up.”
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This profile of Jimena Ruiz Rojas was put together based on an interview with Jimena, her mother Maricruz Ruiz and with information available on the internet about her achievements in surfing.