If you were not able to join us at the 1st Open/AWD (athletes with disabilities) Taiwan Exhibition, then you missed out on an epic event! Athletes from EIGHT Countries, including Taiwan participated in what was an inaugural exhibition for this tiny, but powerful nation.
For the first time, Synchro Taiwan's Head Coach Julia Startchenko added a program within her club's current synchro structure to include athletes with disabilities. She started last October 2014 at the urging of the SS-AWD Group. THANK you Coach Julia! Coach Julia said "It has changed my life and I go to sleep every night feeling like a better person because of it". Coach Julia added a 'recreational' program so that the kids are not pressured to keep up with her more experienced swimmers. Then, once they become proficient, she incorporates them amongst her novice, intermediate or even age group swimmers. She has 14 swimmers with disabilities and most have progressed to the Novice and Intermediate levels. Her swimmers have disabilities ranging from Down Syndrome to Visually impaired and Amputees. She encourages them to swim for therapuetic purposes and for competition. Coach Julia says she is fine with those who just want to swim recreationally because she already see the benefits it provides.
The Exhibition began with a 2 day Synchro Symposium focusing on Athletes with disabilities and how they can be trained properly and incorporated into current synchro programs. Many topics were covered including coaching the AWD to discussions on judging, routines, exhibitions, choreography, custom synchro suits, etc. There was even a Press conference which featured a Fashion Show with the participating athletes. On the 3rd day, the public and VIPs were treated to a free fabulous exhibition at Taipei's premier Aquatics Center. Over 25 athletes participated in a water show and the Open exhibition which featured swimmers from Japan, Brazil, Israel, USA, Russia, Mexico, Canada and of course, Taiwan. The Open Exhibition even included non disabled athletes from the participating Countries.
Tina Boales, Board Chair for the SS-AWD Group was one of the Keynote speakers and the Symposium facilitator. She states "I was happy and excited that our group was a big part of the success for the Taiwan Event. Having synchronized swimmers with disabilities from all over the World was heartfelt in that we got to see who they are, how they swim and what we can do to promote them for elite swimming in a future Paralympic Games". From what we gathered in our conversations with many athletes and coaches, a lot of them were excited about being on an 'International Stage' and felt just as important as the athletes they see on TV or at the Olympics. "This is what its all about" says Tina Boales. "It's about including a population of people who otherwise do not normally get the attention they deserve. After all, synchronized swimming was made popular by an athlete with a disability. All we are doing is re-visiting what she (Annette Kellerman) had done and the awareness she had spread for the benefits that this sport provided for those with disabilities. Embracing our synchro history/past will ensure our sucess now and into the future".
The Taiwan event was so successful, even the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-Jeou, sent a letter to the event organizers (Rotary Club) and Synchro Taiwan thanking and congratulating them for putting the event together and wished everyone involved health and happiness. He recognized the participating Countries and athletes from all over the World who came together in Taiwan and wished all the participants 'positive energy' with their integration into synchronized swimming and for a friendly, peaceful and social effort in creating recreational awareness amongst athletes with disabilities.
In addition to the President of Taiwan's letter, there were SIX ambassadors from various Countries in attendance and cheering on their particular Country's athletes. The Governor as well as Mayors from Taichung and Taipei and their families were also in attendance. The event also drew local VIPs and Celebrities and even one from as far as Russia. The Govenor's wife joyfully participated with placing exhibition medals around every swimmer's neck and took great delight in congratulating the swimmers for their hard work and determination. The event garnered so much media attention that a feature presentation about the event was aired on CNN-Taiwan, local news channels, a Russian Radio network and one of the largest English Radio Stations in Asia.
The SS-AWD group would like to thank the many sponors, supporters, volunteers and participants who helped make this event a huge success for the swimmers. One of the Sponsors, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, even made it possible for a swimmer and coach from Brazil to attend and be represented. The Hotel Elisabeth/Elisa Bakery and Elise Cheng in Taichung generously hosted the athletes and provided transportation, meals and tours everyday. There were so many sponsors, donors, supporters and volunteers who should be recognized and thanked for their efforts that we have asked Synchro Taiwan for a list so that we can publish it on our website and Social media. If you are one of those sponsors/donors /supporters/volunteers reading this, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts and on behalf of the 25+ Athletes with disabilities who participated, heartfelt appreciation for giving them a chance to showcase who they are and their dreams for the future.
For more information, additional pictures and videos of the Taiwan event, please visit our Facebook page at:
Synchronized Swimming Athletes with Disabilities:
As soon as we are able to sort through the thousands of pictures and hundreds of hours of video, we will post some memorable and notable pictures for your pleasure. Over time, we will also post video of the swimmers from each Country. If you have any questions or inquires, please send us an email at: email@example.com.