India has performed exceeding well in this year’s Special Olympics. In the 2019 edition, India managed to bag a staggering 368 medals by participating 14 of the 24 games. Indian athletes, in not just this edition, but in previous games as well, have made the country proud. Apart from their own will, determination and talent, there is often an army of people, including parents, coaches and friends who help them achieve their targets.
Arpita Mohapatra is one of such persons. As a Special Olympics Bharat coach, she trains people with Intellectual disabilities in open swimming. Speaking to Humans of New York, Mohapatra told how she became the force behind these athletes. Notably, she also runs teh Bharati Rath Memorial Academy of Special Human Abilities. It is a community that empowers differently ables people through sport and physical activity.
“There was a small river near our village, and my father taught me to swim while we bathed.
Before long I was sneaking to the river after school. I’d swim for hours every day. My father would physically pull me out of the water at dinnertime. But my village was very traditional and conservative. Adult women weren’t allowed to swim.
So I had to quit when I turned fifteen. I didn’t begin again until my twenties. By that time I’d moved to the city, and there was no female instructor at our public pool.
So I volunteered. During my lessons, I kept noticing an autistic boy who would stand along the edge and watch. Nobody wanted to teach him.
The male coaches were afraid of being bitten and scratched. But I could tell that he was so curious, so I began to play with him. I splashed him. Slowly I touched him. I’d hold his leg and pull him through the water, teaching him how to breathe in and breathe out. He’d climb on my back and hold my neck while I did the strokes. He did bite me. And hit me. And sometimes he’d squeeze my neck too hard. But it was never malicious. In his mind he thought he was doing the right thing. It took a long time but slowly he learned how to swim.
Now he comes running to me whenever he sees me. That experience gave me a weakness for kids with disabilities. I’ve taught over two hundred so far.
There is no government support. Nobody comes to see these children. So I go to the villages and seek them out. I teach them to swim in ponds and rivers.
When they feel happy, I feel happy. Recently I’ve started my own academy—just for them.”
“There was a small river near our village, and my father taught me to swim while we bathed. Before long I was sneaking…
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