Mrunal Manmay Dash

14-year-old divyang girl Jiya Rai caught everyone’s attention in Odisha when she swam 21 km in the open waters of Chilika lake. Termed as 'little mermaid', Jiya Rai suffers from a rare mental disorder called autism. However, that did not restrain her from breaking record after record and accumulating medal after medal.

Yes, if you believe Jiya’s Chilika stint is a flash in the pan, think again because she has won 26 world records so far and has created numerous records in a short period of time.

Earlier in April 2022, during another rendezvous with blue water, Jiya swam 29 km across the Palk Strait between Thalaimannar and Dhanuskodi in 13 hours and 10 minutes. It was more than just a record; it served as an example and a source of inspiration for others as well as autistic youngsters like her.

Born on May 10, 2008 to Indian Navy officer Madan Rai and wife Rachna, Jiya was diagnosed with autism in 2010. However, when her parents discovered that she has a liking for swimming, there was no looking back for her.

Her first world record came when she was just 12. On February 15, Jiya became the youngest and the fastest specially-abled girl to swim 14 kilometres from Elephanta Island to the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

Apart from Swimming, she has a keen interest in wildlife. Jiya swam in Chilika to create awareness and safeguard the migratory birds in Asia’s largest brackish water lake. Her efforts have even brought her a mention by PM Narendra Modi in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme.

The event was organised by the Veteran’s Club of Odisha. Club’s State President, Bidyadhar Nayak said, “Jiya wasn’t competing with anybody. She was here to create awareness among people to stop poaching of migratory birds.”

Madan Rai, her father said, “The swim was planned before 10 months. The swimming started at 5:52 am and concluded at 10 am covering a distance of 21 km.”

Speaking with reporters, Jiya’s mother, Rachna said, “She (Jiya) has won 29 gold, 1 bronze and 1 silver till now in national and state women’s swimming championships.”

She aims to become the first and youngest para swimmer in the world to swim seven oceans.

(Reported By Shakti Prasad Mohapatra, OTV)