Joaquín Carmona had 16,000 followers on Twitter, and his posts about Spanish athletics were appreciated even by sport professionals. None of his followers had ever met him in person, and when silence fell on his account for three months, people began to look for him, write to him and ask who Carmona really was.

“I didn’t know we would miss him so much,” Spanish journalist Alfredo Varona wrote, June 13, on the sports blog La bolsa del corredor. In fact, how did athletics lovers end up missing an absolute stranger, whom no one actually knew, and whose profile picture might as well have been fake, like his ID could have been. Everything related to Carmona is shrouded in mystery, Varona notes, explaining that the man supposedly residing in Madrid gained notoriety on merit.

A stranger, a passion and a job well done

“None of us, those related to this sport, know who he is,” said Gerardo Cebrián, a press officer at the Royal Spanish Athletics Federation between 1982 and 2017 and a sports (athletics) commentator at Televisión Española. The perfect mystery surrounding Carmona did not stop Cebrián from “falling in love” with him. The explanation is simple: “Maybe because people who perform so well at one sole thing win this right without intending to do so.”

The well-known sports commentator says he has gained absolute confidence in the information that the stranger posted on Twitter and that, although all the posts are subject to mistakes, “Joaquin is infallible. He is never wrong.

Moreover, Cebrián says that he sometimes received messages from Carmona when he presented some erroneous information during a TV broadcast and that he immediately corrected the error, because he trusts the solid information Carmona has on topics related to athletics. Since he disappeared from Twitter, Cebrián sent him several messages to find out what happened to him, but he didn’t receive an answer.

Well-known athletics coach Antonio Serrano, woking for the Spanish Athletics Federation confesses that he went on Twitter only to see if there are new posts of the unknown. Being quite passionate about statistics and any kind of information related to athletics, Serrano noticed that Joaquín Carmona transmits the information “better and before anyone else. He has an advantage that others do not have and that makes him different, which makes us all ask ourselves now: ‘Where is he?’, ‘What happened to him?’.”

Madrid runner Miguel del Pozo admits that he has often wondered who Carmona is. He sometimes flirted with the idea that he is a statistician in love with athletics. In any case, no one presents and better explains data and curiosities related to this sport, so del Pozo asked him to return to Twitter.

An unsolved mystery

In the agitation created by Carmona’s disappearance, the bullfighter Daniel Luque expressed his hope that the man is well and that only circumstances prevent him from returning to Twitter (“Let’s hope he is in a city without Wi-Fi.”). Many feared that this encyclopedia-man would have fallen victim to COVID-19, which ravaged Spain, but the explanation for the disappearance is both different and dramatic.

Joaquín Carmona lives in Madrid in a city park because he has not been able to rent a house for more than 10 years. His only fortune consists of a backpack, three books borrowed from the library, a mattress found on the street and an old laptop, which he has not been able to charge in the last three months because cafes and libraries are closed due to the COVID pandemic. He also has a pair of slippers, although not the most suitable footwear for colder nights. Money is not superfluous, so during the state of emergency he ate items out of the trash.

Joaquín is 46 years old and has an impressive amount of knowledge about athletics and cinema. However, for passers-by, he is just a man on the street, who reads the suspicion with which the police look at him whenever he opens his laptop — they probably wonder if it’s stolen.

He comes from a dysfunctional family, in which his mother’s illness and his father’s alcoholism forced him to become independent early on. He came to Madrid at the age of 19, looking for work, and all these years it went both better and worse. He had a lot of jobs. The last one failed when the municipality closed the kiosk where he sold ice cream. The jobs he later found were temporary, helping him earn only enough to survive.

The last time he opened his computer was in March; he was trying to post a message on Twitter at the Atocha subway station, but the police ordered him to leave and he did not manage to finish the message. He has had a Twitter account since 2010 and, while he had to sleep on the street and wash himself in a public bathroom for 0.5 euros, the social media platform was a form of “therapy” for him. And a way to escape from the real world.

Unwritten epilogue

Alfredo Varona found Carmona only after launching on social networks the question that floated on the lips of those so passionate about athletics: “Does anyone know who Joaquín Carmona is?”. Finally came the answer: a man from Turin who had lived in Madrid knew Carmona from the library. He also knew that he was sleeping on the street.

Varona found him in one of the city’s parks. He did not reveal the name of the park, at Carmona’s request. Reluctant to reveal his own story, the man opened up during the conversation and accepted the journalist’s invitation to a burger, on which occasion another detail about Carmona emerged: he is a vegetarian.

The journalist launched a fundraiser for Carmona, which helped the man stay at a boarding house and also charge his laptop battery. After 10 years in which no one called him, the man said he was excited by the avalanche of messages he received.

The next step for the man’s life to change radically would be to find a secure job, maybe even one that fits his great passion.

Middle distance runner Kevin López, an Olympian in London and Rio, is among those who believe Joaquín Carmona would be a win for the Federation if they decided to recruit him, despite the times of crisis we are going through.

We don’t know which direction things will move for Carmona, but his story reminded me of Emily Zamourka, a 52-year-old woman from Los Angeles whom a police officer filmed singing “O mio babbino caro” in the subway. Emily had been living on the streets for several years, after her health and a series of financial problems brought her to the point where she could no longer pay her rent. After the video went viral, the woman received an offer for an album from Joel Diamond, a Grammy-nominated producer.

A few months later, there was silence over Emily’s story. Two or three publications wrote that the album’s project had not materialized, and for uncertain reasons not a penny of the more than 80,000 dollars raised for Emily by the GoFundMe platform had reached her.

The end of Carmona’s story can flow in any direction (and that of Emily Zamourka’s story, too), but I think we could learn something of these experiences.

About merit and perseverance

First of all, we could check the degree to which our compassion, sensitivity and solidarity have faded. We probably think that people like Emily or Joaquín Carmona deserve to be saved for their amazing abilities, but does this mean that those who have no talent to make them visible in this stigmatized category do not deserve to have a roof over their heads?

We want to change the image of the homeless,” said Branimir Kvartuc, a Los Angeles City Council spokesman. Kvartuc acknowledged that the municipality still has work to do to provide shelter for people sleeping on the city’s streets who, he stressed, are more than “a bunch of losers.”

The truth is, however, that we tend to look at street people as only half-human beings, and the way we relate to them clearly conveys this message. We believe that they are solely responsible for their miserable situation, although in reality anyone could end up in a critical situation, and the reasons a person sleeps outdoors are very varied, from divorce and domestic violence to health problems and drug addiction.

The life of a homeless man is a mosaic of “discouragement, pain, destruction and unpredictability,” Pastor Ward Draper wrote in an article for The Huffington Post, pointing out how, after one loses their home, they also lose control over most things in their life.

An editorial published in The Guardian points to statistics showing a homeless person can expect to live up to 45 years if they’re a man, and 43 years if they’re a woman, although life expectancy of the British is 76 and 81 years, respectively.

“Homeless people often die as they live, in anonymity amid general indifference,” the author concludes.

On the other hand, stories like Carmona’s talk about the power and perseverance to propel a passion to a level that arouses the admiration of professionals, in conditions as hostile to performance as they can possibly get. If he has managed to turn a passion into a project that brings together amateurs and professionals, then anyone with a roof over their head, a decent lunch, borrowed books and a computer they can open whenever they want, starts with a consistent advantage towards achieving a dream, whatever that may be.

Carmen Lăiu is a writer for ST Network and Semnele timpului.