Rice paralympic swimmer going for the gold in London with Team USA

Mycah Hatfield Image
Friday, September 13, 2019
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A Rice freshman and paralympic swimmer is competing for gold medals in London for Team USA.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Rice swimmer is going for the gold medal again.

Ahalya Lettenberger is not your average swimmer, though. She headed to London to compete with Team USA against other athletes with disabilities at the biggest international meet of the year.

Lettenberger is in five events total through this weekend. She won Silver for Team USA in the 400-meter freestyle last Tuesday.

The rest of Lettenberger's events are the 100-meter freestyle on Saturday, and the 100-meter breaststroke on Sunday.

Ahalya was born with a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenital. It's a muscular skeletal disorder that affects her from the hips down and doesn't give her full use of her legs.

"My hips are dislocated," Ahalya said. "My knees only bend to 90 degrees and my ankles don't move at all."

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The Rice freshman can walk for short distances, but she otherwise uses a wheelchair to get around.

Growing up, she played sports but soon realized the fields got too big and the other athletes got too fast for her to keep up.

"It was crushing me," Ahalya said.

But then she found para swimming. It's swimming, but for athletes with disabilities.

"In the water, I just feel free," Ahalya said. "I am free of my braces. I am free of my wheelchair. There is no one staring at me for the way I walk. It's just me and the pool."

If you see her in the water, you wouldn't know she had any limitations, competing in the freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke, winning an international gold medal for Team USA.

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Ahalya said she is setting her sights on the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

"Thinking back to the little girl who had trouble accepting her disability and who struggled with being treated differently because of her disability, and to see how far I've come and to come to this point, it hasn't really sunk in," Ahalya said.

It's been an outlet for her not only physically, but it's allowed Ahalya to connect with people who understand what she goes through every day.

"I could talk about things with them that I could never talk about before," Ahalya said. "We really related to one another."

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