Eight years ago, Italian paralympian Veronica Yoko Plebani found a new beginning. At 15, Plebani, now 23, contracted an acute case of bacterial meningitis that left her body, particularly her arms and legs, severely scarred and impaired. "At first, the idea of having to see all my friends again looking so different really scared me, but luckily that feeling didn't last long," she says. It was the support of family and friends, as well as her own inner strength, that got her through. And despite stacked odds, Plebani, a lifelong athlete, adapted to her new body and took her athleticism to a new level, joining the nearby Kayak Canoa Club Palazzolo in her Northern Italian hometown of Palazzolo sull'Oglio.
"After my illness, I didn't set out with something to prove," she says. "But in the first months out of the hospital, sports showed me how many incredible things my body could do and, somehow, made me love it even more."?She'd been a snowboarder before her battle with meningitis, but afterwards Plebani went on to represent Italy at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi and compete in kayaking at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In 2017, Plebani took on yet another sport, paratriathlon, and earned a pair of gold medals, at the 2017 ITA Paratriathlon National Championships and the 2017 Besancon ITU Paratriathlon World Cup.
On top of an intense training schedule and her political science courses at the University of Bologna, Plebani not only keeps her fans updated on her day to day on Instagram, but makes a point of posting photos of herself with inspiring messages of triumph and transformation. "At first I wasn't so?confident showing my 'new body' with all of these scars, but then I realized that it could help break?prejudices and stereotypes," she explains. "When I shared photos?of me in?swimwear for the first time, I was shocked by all the positive messages." She proudly recalls one instance in which a fan confided that she had similar scarring, but had been afraid to let it be revealed in shorts or a bathing suit until she saw Plebani doing so. "With body positivity, social media is helping contribute to a more confident society," says Plebani adding that she's tapped into a community of incredible women and para-athletes on Instagram that inspire her to defy limits and prejudices, and live as healthy a lifestyle as possible.