Monday 25 February 2019, 09:01

Getulinho: Football helped me to walk

  • Football helped Getulinho, a cerebral palsy sufferer, to walk

  • The goalkeeper hosts his own radio show and is a motivational speaker

  • The beloved 14-year-old was described by Neymar as "extraordinary”

“The diagnosis was that I’d be in a wheelchair for life,” Getulio Felipe, a 14-year-old who suffers from Spastic Diplegia – a chronic neuromuscular form of cerebral palsy – told “But football inspired me to walk before I turned seven.

“I became fixated with football when I was four. I couldn’t walk, but my dad, without telling me, believed I could one day play in goal and he used to show me videos of Taffarel, Manga and even [Lev] Yashin on Youtube. I used to idolise Taffarel, [Edwin] van der Sar, Oliver Kahn and Clemer.

“One day, my dad suddenly said to me, ‘You’re a goalkeeper, you’re playing in the World Cup Final, and it’s gone to penalties. Come with me’.

“To my amazement, he’d constructed a goal in our back yard, with goalposts made of wood and pillows covering the goalmouth. I will never forget being overcome with excitement that I was going to play football! I was a little scared to dive at first, but my dad encouraged me, saying I was Taffarel and that if I didn’t save this penalty Brazil would lose the World Cup Final.

“The sensation of saving the ball was indescribable. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. It made me so determined to be able to walk.”

Getulinho has gone on to do more than just walk. Way more.

He’s trained – and formed a special bond – with former and current Brazil No1s Dida and Alisson. In October, he was granted the “immense privilege” of coming on as substitute to represent Brazil away to Uruguay in a Masters match in Uruguay, playing alongside 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan winners Anderson Polga and Edilson and saving a shot from Ruben Paz. The following month, the beloved Gaúcho played in the Brazilian Junior Paralympics, keeping three clean sheets in four matches to inspire Rio Grande do Sul state to bronze.

And he walked out for the Germany-Algeria showdown, in the Round of 16 at Brazil 2014 hand-in-hand with his idol Manuel Neuer.

“It was feeling of immense happiness,” recalled Getulinho. "I knew I was realising a dream so many people would have loved to have realised. I felt so fortunate.

“And Neuer made it even more special. He was so nice, as were all the Germany players, and Thomas Muller was especially good with me. It was an amazing and unique experience… well, at least I thought it was a one-off! (laughs)

“A few months later, I got commissioned to launch my own radio show. I looked at my dad and said, ‘I want the first interview to be with Neuer.’ My dad looked at me and thought, ‘Are you crazy, son?’

“But I didn’t stop dreaming, mentioned it on a TV show, and an apparel firm offered to pay for my flights. Then I spoke to Ze Roberto. Immediately, right in front of me, he picked up his mobile phone and called Rafinha. Rafinha was in the dressing room with Neuer, asked him, Neuer gave the ‘Ok’ and one week later I was in Germany interviewing the best goalkeeper in the world! Madness!

“I watched a game at the Allianz Arena. I had an incredible time at Dante’s house. And I went training with Bayern! I couldn’t believe it, but all the Germany players – Mario Gotze, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Muller – remembered me. They all treat me like a lifelong friend – it felt incredible.

“Thomas Muller, everyone knows he’s a great footballer, but he’s an amazing human being. He’s the joker of the group, really funny. He went out of his way to make my experience even more special. The way I was treat by everybody at Bayern was beyond anything I could have dreamed about.

“And I got to have Neuer as the first interview on my radio show, which has gone on to win lots of awards. I’ve interviewed innumerable former Brazil internationals, other sportsmen like Rubinho Barrichello and other celebrities, but, most importantly, it serves as an inspiration that people who are born with disabilities can succeed."

That is this one-of-a-kind bundle of inspiration and fun's life mantra: to help and entertain others. He’s the children’s representative of the Neymar Institute, a charity for disadvantaged youths in Brazil. He tirelessly works with people affected by cerebral palsy and other disabilities. He organises fundraisers which send 500kg of food supplies to impoverished families. He’s a singer, a motivational speaker, and a Citizen of Honour of Porto Alegre.

Getulio Felipe is, as Neymar puts it, “an extraordinary person”.