This reporter was a young man of 32, when a fifteen-year-old from Camagüey arrived, to captivate volleyball fans in the Caracas 1983 Pan American Games.
Impossible to imagine that she would later become the Cuban team's captain for more than 15 years! Her talent for conversing and convincing were clearly attractive, and, as a mature woman, still are today.
I had the pleasure, the honor, of covering her career for Granma, so I will share one anecdote about Mireya Luis Hernández that explains the special place not only Cubans have reserved in their hearts for her.
The spring tournaments in China initiated the 1987 competitive season for our team. One morning in May, watching the women practice prior to the tour, late coach Eugenio George caught me by surprise me, asking, "You want to know who Mireya Luis is?
"If you tell me, the recommendation comes from a reliable source," I answered.
"Better you experience it yourself during the games in China," he said.
Just days later, we headed to Beijing. The gyms were huge, but nonetheless, thousands of people were left without tickets to see the home team's games. With no alternative, fans crammed in to watch the Cubans practice, in the morning and afternoon.
Every one of Mireya's shots was accompanied by a racket in the stands. Many stood up to applaud and cheer. It was an inspirational madhouse for the young women. At the end of the training sessions, and after official games, two packed lines of admirers gathered along the sides of the exit, to cheer the team and approach Mireya.
Luisa, Luisa! Shouted the fans, as they had baptized her, rushing to touch her, hug her, kiss her, and ask for autographs. The scene was repeated in every city we visited, not only in China, but in Japan and elsewhere, too. One thing I never figured out was why they called her Luisa.
For decades, Cuba has recognized her work, dignity, and accomplishments in Norceca volleyball, as the Northern and Central American and Caribbean regional confederation is known.
There have been many outstanding Cubans who have taken on responsibilities in the organization, including Andrés Hevia, now deceased, who was head of rules and arbitration.
Mireya Luis was recently elected president of Norceca's North and Central Zone Association, and upon her return from the Dominican Republic, Granma spoke with her about her future.
Do you consider this nomination timely, or a bit late?
It comes right after three years of experience working in the Cuban Volleyball Federation, and I will try to fulfill my duties with the same dedication I showed on the court.
To what degree did your experience on the International Olympic Committee's Athletes Commission help you grow as a leader of the sport?
I belonged to the IOC Athletes Commission from 2000 until 2008. It allowed me to get to know in depth the structure and functioning of the national and international Olympic movement, and how to interpret and apply the Olympic Charter. I expanded my relations with national Olympic committees and federations, but the most useful thing was establishing ties with athletes and coaches around the planet, in different disciplines.
It also contributed to shaping my experience as an athlete and captain of our
"Morenas del Caribe" for more than 15 years, a path begun at the Cerro Pelado Sports School in Camagüey, that continued in Central American, Pan American, Olympic, and World competitions. For several years, I was vice president of the National Athletes' Commission that is focused on athletes and their families, as a creation of INDER (Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation) to make the thought of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro a reality.
Canada, the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic have set the standard in the area you now serve as President. How will you help less strong countries?
Work must be done at the grassroots, to develop coaches from the countries with less experience. In arbitration, encourage the countries to organize events, courses, children's festivals; ensure that all the countries of the area compete in the Pan American cups, in qualifiers in the different categories; involve sports organizations to keep these countries in high level international competition.
Are the four tickets to the 2018 Grand Prix which the Pan American of Peru currently offers Norceca sufficient?
They're sufficient, considering that quality is obviously distributed around the world. It doesn't seem appropriate to me to ask for more. We need to win it by improving results. To do so, we have increased the number of events in the area, organizing ourselves better by category and age group, from the under-18 to the under-23. To grow internationally, much competition is needed.
Fans ask me if you feel uncomfortable about not being elected the best player of the 20th century, instead of your teammate Regla Torres?
I didn't feel uncomfortable, but rather recognized as a member of the Cuban volleyball family from all generations. The prize went beyond the personal, to the recognition of a collective effort, which had as its greatest supports Eugenio George and our social system. Plus, I was one of the first to congratulate Regla, since I believed she deserved the distinction. As for Eugenio, it would not be right to tell you I remember him; for me he is always present as a father, coach, and a friend. Thanks to his skill and dedication, I have been become what I am today.