Over the next three years, Pajón dominated the sport, winning six international titles. In 2011, she was named Colombian Athlete of the Year. But it wasn’t all a smooth ride. In 2012, just before the Olympic Games, Mariana fell off her bike and injured her shoulder during the first race of the UCI BMX Supercross season.
“For me, losing is finishing second or last in a competition and not understanding what went wrong,” she told Visa. “That’s losing for me. But if you come in last and you gave it your best shot then that’s not losing in my book.”
By the London 2012 Olympic Games, she was back on her bike and selected to be Colombia’s flag bearer during the Opening Ceremony. “It was a huge honor to be able to carry my country’s flag,” said Pajón. “I entered the stadium and it just felt surreal. I was in a dream world. It’s the whole atmosphere, that’s what the Olympic Games are really about.”
She went on to win the gold medal in women’s Cycling BMX with a flawless ride against seven other BMX competitors. It was Colombia’s second gold medal in Olympic Games history and earned her the nickname “The Queen of BMX.” Since then she has picked up three major championship titles, the gold medal at the BMX World Championship time trials and the overall UCI championship title.
In 2015, Pajón was appointed Champion of Peace and Sustainable Development for the United Nations Development Program. “La Guajira, Colombia is a place that needs a lot of help and support,” she said. “That’s why my mission is to be an athlete who goes that extra step and does more than win a medal. I want to leave a legacy for my country.”
That same year Pajón joined Team Visa, a group of world-class Olympic and Paralympic Games athletes who embody Visa’s values of acceptance, partnership and innovation. “Cycling BMX is an individual sport. I’m alone in the starting gate, I train alone and at the end of the day it’s up to me,” said Pajón. “Being part of Team Visa is a tremendous source of pride and a huge responsibility for me to take on, but one that motivates me to make my dreams come true.”
Through the Team Visa program, Visa has supported more than 1,000 Olympic and Paralympic Games hopefuls by providing them with financial and marketing support in the run up to and during the Olympic Games. “Cycling BMX is my job but it’s also my passion,” she said. “For me, doing my sport is like being on holiday all year round, even if I have to train eight hours a day, because I love what I do.”
Theresa Gonzalez is a senior writer for Visa and the author of two Chronicle Books titles. She lives in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @theresagonzalez.
© 2016 Getty Images