25-year-old Sneha Verma of Kharghar, Mumbai, was born with Down Syndrome. Her condition, however, did not prove to be her adversary. Watching other Indian athletes shine at the Asian Games fuelled her dream to make her country proud in an international tournament. She stayed true to this dream and accomplished it at the age of 21 when she bagged the Gold medal in 50m freestyle aquatics in Special Olympics Games in Los Angeles in 2015.
Sneha was introduced to swimming at an early age of 10. She began to take swimming lessons along with her younger sister, Shivani Verma and would try to compete with her sibling in the pool. However, it was a challenge for her to get familiarized with even basic skills like breathing or maneuvering her body underwater.
What seemed natural for a healthy child was initially a daunting task for Sneha. She would make splashes in the water and thought she could never catch up with the speed that was required to become an athlete. She gradually overcame her low stamina through breathing exercises and diving, and thrived with the support of her mother and sister, who always accompanied her to the pool. Eventually, her self-confidence started growing, and she fell in love with swimming.
To ensure that she gets all the training amenities, her parents enrolled Sneha in the Swami Brahmananda Pratishthan school in Belapur. This was a breakthrough move, since it was in this school that she honed her swimming skills. The school sent her to a string of district-level competitions where she won several medals. Her performance started to grab attention, and she was picked up by the Special Olympics team.
At the age of 19, she went away from home for the first time to participate in the National Championships in Bengaluru in 2013. Although her parents were concerned since she had never gone anywhere alone, Sneha not only managed beautifully well by herself but also came back victorious with three old medals, two silver medals, and two bronze medals. These momentous performances led to her being selected for the Special Olympics. Her determination always kept her going and in 2015, came the watershed moment where she won the Gold medal for India- a moment that is still cherished by both Sneha and her family members.
This success at Special Olympics further prompted Sneha to push all the odds and she started preparing for the 2016 Paralympics. It was during her training that the doctors found that her eardrum had been perforated and an internal bone had been eroded. But her uncompromising willpower motivated her to swim with earplugs. She went on to participate in the Paralympics; however, the condition of her ears worsened which restricted her from participating in competitive swimming.
Sneha’s swimming career might have drawn to an end, but her gripping story epitomizes what it means to truly have the heart of a champion. By never giving up- no
matter what the odds- Sneha has proved that people with intellectual
disabilities can achieve the extraordinary.
About SOIFC 2019
Special Olympics International Football Championship 2019 is an event hosted by Evoke Media, an Entertainment, Media & Communication company based out of Chennai, India. The SOIFC 2019, an initiative of Special Olympics, an international organization that serves athletes with intellectual disabilities, is being jointly organized by Special Olympics Bharat, Special Olympics Asia Pacific, Lions Club International District 324 A6 and the Youth Development Consortium. For more information, please visit specialolympicsifc2019.org.
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