AS: Natalia Gaitán: “Having leukaemia made me grow up quickly”

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Natalia Gaitán (28 years old, Bogotá), captain of the Colombian and Valencian National Teams, will lead the “Ches” in Sunday’s derby against Levante.

What are your first memories with a ball?

I started playing in the streets of my neighbourhood in Bogotá with my father and my brother.

Did you consider becoming a professional player back then?

It was very rare for a girl to play and I never imagined dedicating myself to it or representing my country in World Cups or the Olympic Games.

So rare you had to leave the country to do it…

Going to the US allowed me to combine my soccer training with my international business and management career. It was a wonderful experience. Now, I collaborate with Sports Unlimited to get scholarships at American universities for other athletes. We’re strengthening scouting for women’s soccer and getting the players more opportunities to go over there.

Before you emigrated, was it difficult to play in Colombia?

Yes. There were no teams and the most difficult thing was to open doors and show that women can also play.

She also had to overcome setbacks such as a serious illness.

I had leukaemia when I was five years old. Luckily I don’t remember much about it. I was in chemotherapy for two years, but I wasn’t aware how serious it was. Years later I realised its importance. Overcoming leukaemia made me grow up very quickly.

Why did you decide to sign up for Valencia in 2015?

I wanted to continue being a professional in a competitive league and in my own country I couldn’t do that. It has been one of the best decisions of my life. I’m very happy here.

What’s the situation with women’s soccer in your country?

There is nothing established (calendar, teams, etc.) either in the League or in the national team. We’d like there to be a project. This year the league lasted three months and the contracts were signed for that period. It’s difficult to have stability as an athlete.

For you personally, how is the rise of Spanish women’s soccer experienced from inside?

They’ve changed the training grounds, the facilities, stadiums have opened up, there’s broadcasting… They’re things that weren’t there a few years ago.

But, what’s missing is an agreement that regulates conditions…

We’ve been going round and round the same issues for a long time. Hopefully there’ll be a solution soon and we all benefit.

The agreement includes points such as protocol against harassment, an issue that was suffered in the Colombian National Team.

Yes. In the National Team we made formal complaints about this matter so it doesn’t happen again. They were lower level players and we gave them all our support.

Valencia isn’t having a good time at the moment…

It would really lovely really show what we’re made of against Levante this Sunday. A derby is a different kind of experience and we hope to be on top form.

What do you put the team’s bad results down to?

We’ve got several players injured plus new coaching team and plans. We have to keep on working so we can change course.

What goals are you setting yourselves?

For the moment we want to focus on Levante and Madrid CFF to end the year in the best way. And in the second round we’ll try to be more consistent.

What are your aspirations on a personal level?

Enjoy the time I’m here with the Valencia team. I want to go back to my country, but if it can’t be done, I want to continue helping women’s soccer to grow.

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