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22-year-old wins 10th World Down Syndrome Swimming and Artistic Championships in Portugal

Once in the water at the World Down Syndrome Swimming and Artistic Championships, I transformed. No longer bound by gravity, I felt like a graceful mermaid, swaying in harmony with the water’s ebb and flow.

  • 8 months ago
  • September 26, 2023
6 min read
Jacinta executing a synchronized artistic swimming routine. | Photo Courtesy Jacinta Martinez Ranceze Jacinta executing a synchronized artistic swimming routine. | Photo Courtesy Jacinta Martinez Ranceze
Interview Subject
Jacinta Martinez Ranceze, 22, has rapidly ascended the ranks of artistic swimming, capturing Argentine, Pan-American, European, and World championships since her competitive debut in 2017. She further distinguished herself by winning the 10th World Down Syndrome Swimming & Artistic Championship event in Portugal this year – an event organized by the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization (DSISO). In 2022, she broadened her impact by joining the esteemed Disney Princesses campaign to inspire Latin American youth as Ariel from The Little Mermaid. With accomplishments in both the sporting and social spheres, Jacinta actively embodies the roles of athlete and influencer.
background context
Down syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21, is a genetic condition affecting both mental and physical development, with symptoms ranging from mild to moderate intellectual disabilities to developmental delays. It generally occurs spontaneously during early fetal cell division. In the realm of sports, there is currently no dedicated category for athletes with Down Syndrome in the Paralympic Games. However, advocacy initiatives are underway to change this including the Tri21 sporting events in Argentina and efforts by the Spanish Paralympic Committee. For more information, visit ASDRA’s website.

ALBUFEIRA, Portugal — Capturing the most meaningful medal of my life in the 10th World Down Syndrome Swimming and Artistic Championships still sends shivers down my spine. Moments before plunging into the pool, my muscles tensed, and adrenaline electrified my veins. To steady myself, I summoned cherished images of family and calming memories.

My love for water began at six months, when my mother introduced me to aquatics. That initial plunge in a pool revealed an unbreakable bond, setting the stage for a life rich in opportunities. Despite having Down Syndrome, I felt limitless, navigating my surroundings with an insatiable curiosity and a boundless energy. Swimming became my sanctuary, a haven of freedom and independence.

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“As a person with Down Syndrome, I learn in my own unique way.”

Once in the water at the World Down Syndrome Swimming and Artistic Championships, I transformed. No longer bound by gravity, I felt like a graceful mermaid, swaying in harmony with the water’s ebb and flow. Each stroke and twirl throughout the race confirmed that the relentless hours I’d poured into training were worth it.

As I powered toward the finish line, the cheering of the crowd escalated. It resonated in the air like an anthem of triumph. Then, in a matter of heart-pounding seconds, I seized my victory. I could barely believe it.

I am driven by a strong competitive spirit and a clear set of personal goals. Most days, I am full of joy – singing, dancing, and making people laugh. Yet, when a competition nears, I become very serious. I pull away, picturing each step of my performance in my head. Once I feel focused, I become ready to face the next challenge.

As a person with Down Syndrome, I learn in my own unique way. While I may move forward at my own pace, I never stop trying to learn more. Often, I see how I uplift people. When my eyes meet with another person and I see their gratitude or hear their kind words, it energizes me. I hope to return that same energy back to them.

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Young woman with Down Syndrome enjoys a rich life full of adventure

From the soothing embrace of the water to the illuminating world of the stage, to enriching relationships, my life is like an interconnected tapestry. These life experiences have been shaped by my family, opportunity, and self-belief.

In addition to swimming, I find this sense of boundlessness in acting as well, although the journey has not been without challenges. I remember my first role; I played a villain and it clashed with my literal view of the world. I had to lean on my mom and my teachers for patience and guidance. In time, I navigated the nuances of the art and learned that acting serves not as a form of deception, but of artistic expression. This lesson enriched my personal growth.

When I attended drama school, another beautiful chapter of my life began. There, I met my boyfriend and the immediate attraction we shared blossomed into something deeper. Whenever we spoke, his words resonated with me and his kindness imparted a unique sense of being cherished. Together with our close-knit circle of friends, we embrace life’s pleasures: dancing, dining, and absorbing the magic of cinema.

Each day, I feel the unbounded nature of the human spirit inside me. My life is built on this foundation of limitless possibilities. Each day, I excitedly wait for the next adventure.

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People with Down Syndrome still face barriers: I intend to change that

Having attended mainstream schools since kindergarten, my parents offered subtle but steadfast support. I was fortunate to experience inclusivity throughout my educational journey. A sense of seamless acceptance and belonging afforded me an enjoyable life.

Yet, despite training as rigorously as any other athlete, I do find myself unjustly excluded at times. As a result, a major aspiration of mine is to dismantle barriers facing individuals with Down Syndrome, especially in the context of the Paralympics. [The Paralympics doesn’t have a dedicated category for athletes with Down Syndrome, but organizations in Argentina and Spain are trying to change that.]

Jacinta is a champion swimmer who fights for more access for people with Down Syndrome. | Photo courtesy of Jacinta Martinez Ranceze

The denial we face at times feels perplexing and frustrating, and no one has offered a convincing justification. As a result, my fight transcends personal triumphs. I aim to pave the way for future athletes with Down Syndrome, to create opportunities for them where none exist.

With my strong will and dedication, I know I can win this battle, just like I have overcome other challenges in my life. I always push forward, and I will not stop anytime soon.

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