You cannot shake hands with him or even give him a gentle pat on his back. His mother gets tense every time he coughs. “He has over 200 fractures. Even a little jerk can break his bones,” says Kausar Junnedi, mother of thirteen year-old Moin M. Junnedi, who suffers from severe osteoporosis.

His bones are brittle but his spirit is definitely not. The ace swimmer gave a tough time to all his competitors at the National Paralympics swimming and water polo events that began in the city on Friday.

Moin took to swimming when no school was ready to take him in. “They all said they would not take such a big responsibility but I was keen he get some education. He was interested in   swimming, but I was very sacred initially to even let the coach handle him,” says Kausar.

While Kausar, a homemaker, accompanies her son to every competition, his father, a farmer is based in Belgaum.

Nearly 350 swimmers with various disabilities participated in almost 150 water events at the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, where the event was held.

Volunteers from Scope International helped the contestants at the venue and IIT-Madras is providing lodging facilities to the participants and their escorts.

“Most parents don’t let their children take part in sports fearing it can worsen their condition. We need to understand that they too have aspirations and we must not suppress them,” said Sadhana Kumar, parent of a child with Down’s syndrome, who had come from Mumbai.

“Last year, we had only four swimmers from Tamil Nadu. This year we have over 20, which is very encouraging,” said Madhavi Latha, a swimmer from Chennai. The 42-year-old, who won the gold last year, was placed third this year. Madhavi has been urging the government to make swimming pools accessible to people with disabilities.

“Getting into the water and out of it is a problem. Someone has to always lift us. If pools have cranes and ramps, it can encourage many of us to take to swimming,” she said.

A senior official at a company, Madhavi who suffers from an almost 80 per cent disability — the result of a severe attack of poliomyelitis — is also an inspiration to many. Five years ago, when she developed complications and the doctors gave up hope of her surviving, she resorted to hydrotherapy. “I felt an amazing sense of freedom when I entered the water. I needed no crutches, no wheelchair and I could move my body,” she said.

“No coach came forward to train me and I learnt all the strokes on my own while my parents would move around the pool, praying that the chute, my only support, did not blow off,” she recalled. “What we miss most is the applause that normally accompanies the Olympics. When people come and watch us perform, it can inspire them, but their encouragement would mean the world to us,” she added.

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