Down syndrome synchro team aims for Paralympics

ROME (AP) — Under a bright Roman sun, Arianna Sacripante holds her arms out wide, tilts her head back and points her eyes toward the clear blue sky.

The synchronised swimming routine performed on the terrace of Sacripante’s home — with her mother improvising as coach and choreographer — is a shining example of perseverance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sacripante and her teammates with Down syndrome have met the year-long postponement of their performance after the Tokyo Olympics just as they’ve met every other challenge in their lives: With the will to overcome it.

The “Progetto Filippide” team, which comes under the umbrella of the Italian Swimming Federation, has the goal of achieving inclusion in the Paralympics programme.

“When I see them in the water, the first thing that I think of is how sports can erase a disability,” said Sabrina Bernabei, the team’s coach. “The rules are the same and they just want to show what they are able to do. It’s unbelievable what they can pull out and how they can perform.”

Bernabei added that sometimes she doesn’t understand “if I am the one teaching them or they are teaching something to me.”

The team is planning to perform at the Para Artistic Swimming Festival & International Friendly Games, which is held between the Olympics and Paralympics. Due to the postponement, the performance will now likely be held in 2021. Synchronised swimming is not yet a Paralympic sport and the festival is the primary showcase for becoming part of the programme.

There are currently 22 sports in the Summer Paralympics programme.

The Associated Press has been following the Filippide team’s progress since before the coronavirus pandemic hit Italy — which prompted a nationwide lockdown that included closing swimming pools. That’s why the synchro team has been training individually at home.

File photo shows Coaches Sabrina Bernabei and Elisa Plaisant giving instructions to the athletes as they warm up at the Acquaniene swimming centre in Rome. PHOTO: AP