Paloma Pujol Mayo

Paloma Pujol Mayo Courtesy of Paloma Pujol Mayo

When Paloma Pujol Mayo was growing up in Mexico in the 1990s, girls weren’t encouraged to play football (a.k.a. “soccer,” for Americans). Not that Pujol Mayo let traditional social norms stop her; instead, she trained with the boys. When it came time for her first game and the referee told her she couldn’t play because of her gender, she and her coach found a convenient way for her to work around the technicality: They created a fake player’s card that identified her as a boy. “Being a girl was a disadvantage,” she tells GO. Early on, she adopted a masculine look that allowed her greater access to the types of things girls weren’t supposed to do — like play in local football matches. It wasn’t until she moved to the more liberal Spain with her mom that she could play football on a girl’s team. Although she no longer plays football in the traditional sense, Pujol Mayo is now among the best in the world at freestyle juggling, an individualized sport that requires the juggler to artfully control, or “juggle,” a special soccer ball with only their feet. She is also a five-time Footbag World Champion, star of the short film “All I Need is a Ball,” and one of the founders of the Instagram handle @WeAreFemaleFreestylers, which connects over 750 female freestyle jugglers worldwide. In her free time, Pujol Mayo, known in the freestyle world by the moniker “Paloma Freestyle,” runs workshops for girls who, thanks to her efforts, can now play football. “The world has changed so much,” she says, “and it feels amazing.” —RK

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