Johanis Menco 6

Johanis Menco: "Being a professional footballer is still in me"

Player story

Share this quote

Johanis Menco 6
  • Former goalkeeper Johanis Menco recently won her disability pension with the invaluable support of Colombian player union ACOLFUTPRO

  • Menco fought for it since 2020, when she lost her left leg in a domestic accident

  • Menco tells her story to FIFPRO

A stray tile, an unexpected stumble, a collision with the full weight of her body against a glass window. Johanis Menco's life was turned upside down in the blink of an eye. In June 2020, she suffered a domestic accident that cut short her career as a professional footballer at just 26.

She was set to leave Real Santander to sign for Atletico Bucaramanga and was rumoured to be close to a call-up to the Colombian national team. But the injuries were too severe: after three operations to try to repair her femoral artery, she suffered the amputation of her left leg three days after the accident.

"I didn't dwell on what happened," Menco recounts with that cheerful voice and sincere smile that she will maintain throughout the chat with FIFPRO. "Obviously I cried, I cried in front of a mirror, but I told myself that my next tears were going to be tears of happiness. Tears of tenacity, of resilience, of moving forward."

And a few weeks ago, while she was at work, she cried tears of joy. After four years of battling state and judicial bureaucracy, Menco learned that she had finally been granted a disability pension.

"My eyes watered. That pension has cost me tears, it has cost me a lot of things. The pension is not going to give me back my leg, but it will give me a better quality of life. Good things come to those who know how to wait patiently and calmly."

Still trembling with emotion, Menco shared the news with her team-mates, family and also with ACOLFUTPRO, the Colombian players' union, which played a key role from the beginning with its legal advice and personal accompaniment.

"ACOLFUTPRO has always been with me. In the process there were many people, but they were the only ones who stayed and who are still with me because even today they tell me that they are going to help me in everything I need, regardless of whether the pension has already been paid because we don't know what will happen later on. My thanks goes to them."

In addition to providing a lawyer to assist her with the pension process, the union helped Menco as soon as she suffered the accident. "ACOLFUTPRO came to my house in the middle of the pandemic. They gave me a card to buy supplies at the supermarket. They also gave me a card with which I paid for my health care for a year."

Education was also included: together with Real Santander, ACOLFUTPRO paid for Menco to study coaching. "The institute gave me a certain percentage as a scholarship and they paid the rest. Then I studied and recovered," she recalls.

"They still tell me, 'Joa, if you want to study at this university, we have a discount. If you want to study this, you get a discount'. I said that I wanted to study English and they passed me all the contacts. The truth is that they are very attentive to everything about me."

“ACOLFUTPRO has always been with me. There were many people in the process, but they were the only ones who stayed and are still with me.”

— by Johanis Menco

Detailing each aid received triggers a memory in Menco’s mind that shows how difficult it is to make union work understood in certain contexts. "My coach used to tell me, 'Don't pay for that union membership, it's useless'. I remember that at that time I paid 10,000 pesos, which meant nothing to me. That 10,000 pesos has multiplied in a way that you can't even imagine! Nowadays, many of my football friends tell me, 'they do work, they do exactly what they say they will'." 

Cycling, amputee football and heroes

Menco's day is divided between work, training and her passion for coaching and mentoring, and she is a role model for many girls. Playing football is no longer a risk: her right leg also suffers from the consequences of the accident, but she carries the sport in her soul. 

"Being a professional footballer is still in me," she declares.

Menco channels her competitive gene into cycling, where she has already won several medals in para-national competitions. Her goal is to compete internationally until she reaches the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles, USA.

"It would be a dream. As long as I keep going forward with the same attitude I had in football, the same sporting spark and the same smile."

Johanis Menco 5
Johanis Menco competing in cycling

Among her occupations is also being part of Asocolfa, the Colombian Amputee Football Association. "I am the image of women's football for amputees and I talk to the girls, I ask them how they are doing. There is nothing like when you talk to someone who has really gone through something like this and feels your frustration and anger."

She also transmits to them what football generated in her. "I think that being a sportsperson transformed me into what I am, it's what keeps me alive today. The doctor who performed the surgery told me that if I wasn't a high-performance athlete, I would have died.

"I was a goalkeeper. You're either a hero or a villain. You always have to keep that mental toughness because it's hard to go and get the ball behind the net. Or to be a star the whole game and then for one mistake at the last minute everyone falls on top of you.

"I had to keep my head up, put on the gloves and get the team forward. When what happened to me happened, I had to wear the gloves and not encourage the team, but encourage myself. I told myself, 'you're alive, now you have to reinvent yourself'. I wanted to rescue myself and go forward. I wanted to be the hero of my life."