Me, The Change: Olympian with Down Syndrome On Her Journey to Gold
Sneha Verma, from Kharghar in Mumbai, was born with Down Syndrome. She represented India at the Special Olympics Games in Los Angeles in 2015 and won a gold in 50m freestyle aquatics. In this video, she recalls her ‘special’ journey to gold.
‘Me, The Change’ is The Quint’s campaign for the first-time women voter who has an achievement to her name, however big or small. As part of the campaign, The Quint is accepting nominations for these young women achievers and showcasing their stories. If you know someone who fits the bill, let us know by emailing to email@example.com.
Sneha was always a water baby and was introduced to swimming at a very early age, recalls her mother, Madhu Verma. She took swimming lessons along with her younger sister, Shivani Verma and would compete with her sibling in the pool. But it wasn’t that easy for her to pick even the basic skills like breathing or manoeuvring underwater.
“When Sneha used to swim, initially, there was no coordination. She would just splash the water. It took us a lot of time to tell her, how she should breathe or cut the water. Her palms would never close, she would always leave her fingers open. As a result, she could never catch up the speed. For a normal child, that would be a very easy task.”Madhu Verma, Sneha’s Mother
She joined the Swami Brahmananda Pratishthan school in Belapur and that according to her parents was the turning point in Sneha’s life. The school encouraged her and helped her hone her swim skills. She started taking part in competitive events, winning a string of medals at various district-level as well as national competitions.
“The school sent her to several district-level competitions and that’s when she was picked up by the Special Olympics team and she went for the national championship to Bengaluru, when she was 19 years old. It was her first time away from home and we were worried if she’ll be able to manage her everyday routine without our support but she was way more independent than we thought. Sneha came back victorious with three gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals and that led to her selection for the Special Olympics.”Madhu Verma, Sneha’s Mother
Sneha represented India at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles and won gold in 50m freestyle aquatics in 2015. Her only dream was to make India proud and she defied odds and did exactly that. She was the star of her school and her victory was celebrated by everyone she knew and even the people she didn’t.
In 2016, when Sneha was training for Paralympics, she complained of an earache and the family consulted the doctor. They found out that Sneha’s eardrum had perforated and an internal bone had eroded. She was advised to swim with earplugs. She went ahead and participated in the Paralympics competition and won gold but after that, her situation worsened and that was the end of her competitive swimming.
“I can’t swim anymore, it hurts when I put my head in the water. There’s pus in my ear and it hurts a lot. But I’m not upset that I can’t compete, my aim was to make the country proud and I did that. Dance is my passion, it has always been, I’ll focus on that now. I’ve also picked table tennis as a sport and with the right training, I’ll hopefully champion that.”Sneha Verma, Special Olympics Gold Medalist (Swimming)
If you know a young woman achiever, or have always been in awe of a friend, or a sister, or a colleague’s grit and gumption, tell us! Nominate a first-time woman voter who’s changing her world.
Camera: Sanjoy Deb and Divya Talwar
Editor: Ashish Maccune
Camera Assistant: Gautam Sharma
Producer: Divya Talwar
(Hi there! We will be continuing our news service on WhatsApp. Meanwhile, stay tuned to our Telegram channel here.)