Notes of a popular Tamil song greet you as you enter the venue. The crooners are a group of boys from the St. Louis Orchestra of the Blind. The dais next to the swimming pool is abuzz with activity as volunteers prepare themselves, anticipating the chief guest’s arrival. A few participants in the water glide gently past you. It is only when those graceful swimmers get out of the pool do you realize that they are missing something. And that missing element is not a smile.

At the Velachery Aquatic Complex, the 12{+t}{+h}edition of the National Paralympics Swimming and Water Polo competitions has just concluded. More than 300 swimmers from 18 states participated in this experience. The event was organized by Paralympic Swimming Association of Tamilnadu (PSATN) and the Paralympic Swimming Federation of India (PSFI) in collaboration with the Sports Development Authority of Tamilnadu (SDAT) and aptly titled ‘Ripples 2012’

When Madhavi Latha, founder of the Yes We Too Can movement for the differently-abled came up with idea of conducting the event a year ago, her father warned her that she was taking a heavy burden upon her shoulders. Yet that did not faze this plucky woman.

This year, for the first time ever the PSATN of which Madhavi is the General Secretary, successfully hosted the paralympic swimming event in Chennai. Timely help was extended by IIT-Madras, which provided accommodation, and Scope International Pvt. Ltd. which extended volunteering support.

“Swimming is a comprehensive exercise. I can easily move my limbs under water which would otherwise be difficult for me to do on the ground,” says Madhavi who is 80% physically-challenged due to poliomyelitis. “Sports is the best way to motivate the differently-abled. When they participate in sporting events, they are active and feel that they too are a member of the society,” she adds.

“Hydrotherapy (use of water to relieve stress or pain) is based on the simple concept that once your body is submerged in water, its weight reduces. Moving your limbs becomes easier and helps you to work your muscles which otherwise cannot be done out of water,” says physiotherapist Ananda Jothi, the Technical director of PSATN.

10-year old Mayuri, the sole representative in the sub-junior (below 15) category from Tamilnadu, was recommended hydrotherapy by her doctor. She now swims everyday and on this particular day is the proud owner of three medals at the event.

Yet, awareness, let alone encouragement, is evidently an issue. “Parents of differently-abled kids must encourage their children to participate in these events. My parents had a rural background and were not aware of such a therapy. My main aim is to create awareness among parents,” says Madhavi. And awareness she did create since she took up this initiative in 2011.

From a mere 4 member team representing Tamilnadu in 2011, there were 19 members in this edition of the Paralympics, with West Bengal having the largest contingent of paralympians (more than a 100).

Almost 95 people appeared for the trials in November from Tamilnadu, from which these 19 were short-listed to represent the state.

So what would be the next step in this movement after the resounding success of Ripples? “Someday I wish to start a sports school for the differently-abled with coaches specifically trained to teach them and the right infrastructure to assist them.” says Madhavi.

Creating awareness, garnering support for the movement and promoting inclusive infrastructure for the differently-abled in public spaces will be Madhavi’s agenda in the near future even as she makes plans for the next meet in Banglore. As you make way through the crowd of participants cheering the organizers toward the end of the celebration, you are assured that the ‘Ripples’ effect will make waves soon.