13-year-old autistic TN girl swims against tide in Palk Strait, sets record

On World Autism Awareness Day, TNIE speaks to parents and experts on ways to tackle the disorder 

Published: 02nd April 2022 05:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd April 2022 05:49 AM   |  A+A-

Jiya with her family | Express

Express News Service

MADURAI: A 13-year-old Jiya Rai raised everyone’s eyebrows when she swam 29 km across the Palk Strait between Thalaimannar and Dhanuskodi in 13 hours and 10 minutes recently. More than a record it was a ray of hope and inspiration not only for autism-affected children like her, but also for others. While experts say there is no concrete medicine or therapy to cure the disorder completely, parents of Jiya say early detection and personal care/training can help improve the condition.  

 Talking to TNIE, Madan Rai, father of Jiya said, “Jiya was born on May 10, 2008, and till 2010, my wife Rachana and I didn’t find any changes in her. It was on her second birthday that we noticed her sitting in her room and not enjoying with her friends. When we took her for a checkup, she was diagnosed with autism. It was the first time we came across the word - autism. I consulted a doctor in Goa and took her for checkups and therapies. But nothing worked.” 

A ray of hope dawned four years later in 2014, when they noticed Jiya getting excited on seeing a swimming pool. “We discovered her talent as a swimmer and there was no turning back since,” recalled Madan. “Her school swimming coach’s words — if you nurture the child, she will bring laurels for the country — gave me a lot of courage, and confidence. Though my daughter was coached for three months, she did not progress,” he added.

Even when the coach gave up on her and everything seemed out of control, Jiya’s mother was confident enough in her daughter. “Not knowing a thing about swimming, Rachana, surprisingly, volunteered to learn it — just for Jiya. She trained under the coach and taught the child. My wife is Jiya’s coach,” said Madan proudly. All Madan asks parents is to channel the nuclear-like energy of autism kids in the right way.  

Apart from taking lessons, Jiya learns via youtube videos, especially from swimmer Michel Phelps, and spends four hours in physical training and five hours in swimming. Jiya is on a mission to become the first and youngest para swimmer in the world to swim seven oceans.


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