Down syndrome self-advocate Ameet Kulkarni excels at swimming & creative arts
October is Down syndrome Awareness Month and living with the condition can pose some challenges. But that need not come in the way of living a fulfilling life as the story of para swimming champ Ameet Kulkarni shows.
Four gold medals, eight silvers and six bronze medals – highlights of Ameet Suresh Kulkarni’s career in para swimming. Just 30 years old, Ameet has participated in and made a mark at various national and international level competitions.
Swimming is just one of Ameet’s many interests. He has a strong artistic side too and loves block printing, tie and dye art, painting clay pots and making jewellery. He has also done paragliding and acted in Ganarang drama.
To find someone with such varied interests and hobbies is rare. What makes it even more exceptional in this case is that Ameet has learned and nurtured these skills while coping with the challenges of living with Down syndrome.
“He underwent three major surgeries in India and Saudi Arabia, where we were based for a while”, says his mother Anjali Kulkarni. “Many developmental milestones were delayed, including walking”.
Anjali and her husband Suresh Kulkarni enrolled him in swimming classes to encourage him to start walking. “He was two years old when he started water therapy and this involved exercises using rings”, says Anjali. This eventually led to formal swimming lessons.
In 2010, we started Ameet off on formal swimming lessons and he made amazing progress. He went to Australia for the Special Olympics and was a part of many Special Olympics Bharat events. He took part n many national and international events. – Anjali Kulkarni, Ameet’s mother
Swimming led to a larger transformation in Ameet.
“Ameet did not respond to my instructions at first”, says Saurabh Deshpande, his swimming coach. “After some time he started paying attention. His social skills improved tremendously”. Ameet progressed quickly.“He progressed to the advanced batch where he swam with all kids – with and without disabilities”, adds Saurabh. “He was able to match their pace and took part in the exercises with them. Other parents started engaging with him as well”.
Swimming leads to transformation
Swimming led to an improvement in Ameet’s mental and physical coordination as well. “He was scared at first when water entered his nose but as he mastered the breathing techniques he got over that”, adds Saurabh.
Fellow swimming coach Abhijit Arvind Tambe credits Ameet for his excellent record in the sport. “He is extremely fearless in the pool and shows great confidence at various competitions. His progress is entirely his own work. It also helped that his parents and school was supportive”.
Ameet works at a store in Pune which sells khaki and Patanjali products.
“He handles the billing and deals with customers quite confidently”, says a proud Anjali. “Ameet has taught me never to lose hope. He has also shown the world that all children, disabled or not, have talent and promise. As parents we should find that and encourage them. If you stand by your child, he/she will do very well”.
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