For Parul Akhter, Khushi Khatun and Siddikur Rahman it was not just an ordinary competition. They have just returned from Special Olympics, yet the National Age-Level Swimming was more than special to them as it has opened the door for three intellectually disabled swimmers to compete with regular swimmers. Parul, a 14-year old swimmer from Dhamrai who won a gold medal in the 100-metre breaststroke and silver medal in the 100-metre freestyle at Los Angeles Special Olympics, represented Daffodil Swimming Club in the age-level meet.
She competed in 50-metre freestyle and 100-metre backstroke, though she was unable to win any medal this time.
An elated Parul was still expecting to get a medal similar to one that she received in Los Angeles.
‘I’m very happy to compete in the tournament,’ said a smiling Parul, who was struggling to complete her sentence. ‘But I don’t know why they [Bangladesh Swimming Federation] didn’t give me the medal yet,’ said Parul, a student of Kalyani Inclusive school, which works with intellectually disabled students.
Khushi Khatun, a swimmer from Pabna district, who has a disability with speech and hearing, also participated in the 50-metre backstroke and 50-metre freestyle events in the 31st edition of the competition.
Khushi, a regular member of Bangladesh Special Olympics team, was participating in a regular meet for the second time.
She won two medals at Los Angeles – a silver medal and a bronze medal respectively in the 50-metre backstroke and 50-metre freestyle events.
Siddikur Rahman, another intellectually disabled swimmer and a member of Bangladesh’s Special Olympics contingent, also represented Daffodil Swimming Club like his Kalyani school-mate Parul.
The 17-year old Siddikur, hailed from Dhamrai, participated in the 100-metre freestyle and breaststroke events.
Former national swimmer Nargis Ara Anni, who is also an executive member of Bangladesh Swimming Federation, coached the swimmers in the Los Angeles meet.
She explained why these swimmers were given a chance to compete with regular boys and girls.
‘The Special Olympics’ main motto is to give the intellectually disabled players a regular life,’ Anni told New Age on Thursday.
‘To make them involved in normal activities we want to give them more opportunities to play with regular swimmers.’
Manirul Islam Tapu, coach of Pabna swimming team, said he is guiding Khushi for the last three years.
‘In Pabna we have two talented swimmers—Khushi and Rohan – who are intellectually disable. Rohan could not participate in the tournament due to illness. But they are really very talented swimmers,’ he said.
‘Khushi learnt the game in very short time and she is developing herself into a good swimmer. It’s a great opportunity for her to participate with the regular girls.’
Khushi, an unprivileged girl, whose father is a van driver, prepare throughout the year under his guidance, said Tapu.
She demonstrated her talent when she became third among eight participants in her respective heat of 100-metre freestyle.
‘She could have done better if she did not have a hearing impairment,’ said Tapu.
‘She cannot pick the starting whistle and we need to make a special gesture to inform her the starting time. Naturally she starts later and lags behind. Otherwise her result could have been easily better.’
Pabna District Sports Association secretary Rezaul Hossain Badshah, who is also the treasurer of Bangladesh Swimming Federation, helped Khushi make her entry in the competition.
Badshah, who is also the secretary of Special Olympics Pabna Sub-Chapter, said he runs a school in his district for special children and Khusi is one of them.
‘In our school we have some other boys and girls who showed their talents in other sports like badminton, table tennis,’ he said.
BSF general secretary Rafizuddin Rafiz said that they are planning to give a special award to the participants, who overcame the disability to compete with regular swimmers.
‘We are very careful about them. We will give them a medal and host a reception for them after the competition,’ he said.
-With New Age input