Parasports February 26, 2020
Jiya Rai is fastest & youngest swimmer with autism with world record in open water swim
Just 11 years old, Jiya Rai has already set a world record. This class 6 student from Mumbai with autism is now the fastest and youngest person with autism to swim 14 km in open water.
In the repetitive knocking that is characteristic of Jiya Rai’s autism disorder, her father Madan Rai saw a hidden potential. “I am in the Indian Navy and a good swimmer. One of the things swimmers have to first learn is that same repetitive knock Jiya used to make as a child”, recalls Madan.” It struck me that this is something we had to learn in swimming and here my daughter had it naturally!”
Swimming recommended as therapy for Jia
At the time Jiya was two-and-a-half years old and had just been diagnosed with autism. Her counsellor had recommended swimming as a form of therapy and the Rais’ had enrolled her at the local swimming pool for classes. That advice, coupled with the knock, convinced Jiya’s parents that swimming would open a new world for their child.
And what a world it has opened.
By the time she was in class 1, Jiya had begun to excel at swimming and was getting noticed. Being a professional swimmer myself, I knew exactly how to develop her skills further. I was aware that in her case the path ahead was to be forged not in academics but through swimming. Her swimming skills could take her far. – Madan Rai, Jiya’s father
And what an incredible journey this 11-year-old has traveled. From excelling at school-level competitions to now setting a world record as the youngest and fastest swimmer with autism to swim 14 km in open water.
Three world records to her credit
Jiya, who is now in class 6 student of Mumbai’s Navy Children School (NCS), swam the 14 km distance from Elephanta Island to Gateway of India in three hours, 27 minutes and 30 seconds. She swam alone with the entire event supervised by the Swimming Association of Maharashtra.
With this extraordinary achievement, Jiya has entered the India Book of Records, Asia Book and Limca Book of Records.
Her determination and hard word apart, Jiya’s strength also comes from her supportive parents. “I knew she had it in her to set a record”, says her proud father. “I studied all the world records until now and found that previously no child with autism had achieved anything like this”. From June to November 2019, Jiya trained for the 14-km mission at the pool as the sea waters are rough at the time. “While she practised, I completed all the formalities”, adds Madan. A huge boost came her way when she won two gold medals at the National Sea Swimming Championship in Porbander in January this year.
Despite all that, Madan confesses to some nerves in the moments leading up to the swim. “I was a little concerned as Jiya hd never done night swimming before this. When she jumped into the water, I was tense for the first minute. When I saw her pick up her strokes and continue, I knew Jiya would be fine”.
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