HOUSTON – Rice freshman Ahalya Lettenberger didn’t intend on swimming. In fact, as a child, soccer was her first love.
“Eventually, the fields got too big, and the people I was playing with got too fast," said Lettenberger. "I realized I couldn’t keep up anymore."
That’s because she lives with arthrogryposis multiplex congenital, or AMC, a muscular-skeletal disorder affecting her from her hips down. Her hips are dislocated, her knees only bend to about 90 degrees, and her ankles don’t move at all.
A neighbor suggested she try swimming, and Lettenberger fell in love with the sports because her limitations from AMC don’t exist in the pool.
“In the water, I’m free of my braces, my wheelchair," said Lettenberger "There’s no one staring at me for the way I walk. It’s just me and the pool."
The Chicago native has found success in Paralympic swimming and she said she met some of her best friends along the way.
“I get to be surrounded by other people with physical limitations and other people who have gone through similar experiences to what I’ve experienced," said Lettenberger
When it came time to choose a college, Rice was an easy choice. Lettenberger is majoring in bioengineering and hopes to create prosthetics that help folks with disabilities become more independent.
But for the first two weeks in September, Lettenberger will be representing the USA at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. It’s the biggest international meet of the year for Paralympic swimmers.
“I’m so excited to be going and to be representing my country,"' said Lettenberger. "There’s really no feeling like it."
Once she returns from London, Lettenberger will begin training for her biggest challenge yet: qualifying for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. KPRC 2 will be following her journey closely.