Viviane Senna recalls a conversation she had with her brother, motor racing legend Ayrton, in March 1994.
He told her how he wanted to contribute to a better future for Brazil by helping to open up opportunities for children.
Weeks later, aged just 34, he was dead, killed in a May 1 crash at Imola in Italy which shocked Formula One to the core.
Viviane, who now chairs the Ayrton Senna Institute, told AFP in a telephone interview that the values her brother transmitted to Brazilians earned him a mythical status she says is deserved.
“He turned in incredible performances in this sport, making him one of the all-time best, though I don’t think that suffices to explain his ongoing importance 20 years later.
“What is remarkable is the way he won, performance aside.
“He did so adhering to values which people still admire — discipline, tenacity, persistance, passion, courage … I think Ayrton rose above the celebrity fray.
“He is in a mythical category, transcending time and space,” Viviane asserts of a man who won three world titles to impose his mark on the history of the sport while also putting Brazil in the limelight.
“Ayrton was very important in terms of the moment he triumphed — at the time Brazil was not well regarded or fashionable as it is today.
“People saw Brazil as a country of theft and fraud and not worth much, with myriad problems and one that did not function well economically, socially or politically.
– Tenacity and determination –
“In that sense, Ayrton was the first to feel pride in being Brazilian and lifting the Brazilian flag” on the podium.
“What’s more, he scored victories in the developed world. He won over there without cheating, with tenacity and determination, and that’s what makes him a source of inspiration for today,” she asserted.
On his continuing legacy, she added his fame endures even in countries outside Formula One’s race orbit.
“Once, I received a letter from a child in Latvia who told me he had stuck a photo of Ayrton on his cupboard door and that every day when he got up he looked at it and told himself: ‘I am going to fight as you did, not let go, and overcome the difficulties I am going through.'”
Had his life not been so tragically cut short, Senna would still have been involved in the sporting world, Viviana says.
“Personally, I think he would still devote himself to the field of sports — though I don’t think he would still be directly involved with Formula One… Ayrton didn’t like things behind the scenes in F1, which is very political and not too orthodox.”
Viviane’s son Bruno Senna followed Ayrton’s footsteps into the racing world and she admitted that gave her concerns.
“The first time he told me he wanted to race I was shocked as he had never talked about it since Ayrton’s accident.
“Despite the fear and risk, I understand him, as my parents understood Ayrton, even though they didn’t want him to race, either.
On the lasting heritage of Ayrton, Viviane told AFP: “There are two heritages — the one of the values I spoke about and also his great passion for Brazil. He wanted to contribute to making it a prosperous country and not just for a few.
“Ayrton really wanted Brazil to work, for everyone to have a chance and from this dream the Institute was born.”
Asked to sum up the role of the Instutute, she said: “It is an organization working with the public sector to improve the quality of education in Brazil through the training and management of teachers.
“Currently, we are working with more than two million children and training some 75,000 teachers per year across around 1,000 cities around the country.”