HOUSTON, TX — In the middle of her freshman year, Ahalya Lettenberger, Rice's swimmer, was designed to compete in the Paralympic Games that summer, then the COVID-19 arrived.
Lettenberger is a veteran of international competition who's recently representing the United States at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, where she swam in five events, reached the finals in four, and claimed a silver medal. Back then, Lettenberger’s plans were suddenly changed after students were sent home for the semester.
“That was super hard because the one thing that had given me a sense of normalcy—swimming, was gone,” she said, adding that “not knowing when or if the games were going to happen took a big toll on me.”
She was unable to train as she usually does since the pools near her home in Glyn Ellyn, Illinois, were closed. So she had to find alternatives.
Lettenberger, who was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita — a muscular/skeletal disorder that affects her hips and legs, said during the summer she was trying to find any way possible to stay in shape, including biking, using her racing wheelchair, and doing workouts at home.
All those persistence efforts have prepared her for when she returned to the campus and rejoined her Owl teammates in the pool last fall.
Nearly a year later, she’s ready to swim the 400-meter freestyle in the S7 classification at the Paralympics — thanks to her performances at the US trials in June and the Para Swimming World Series in April. She leaves on August 14, with the games starting on August 24 and her competition set for August 28-29.
Lettenberger hopes her past international experience to serve her well in Tokyo. “I had never raced on that big of a world stage before (the world championships), and being able to experience the nerves and excitement that come with that was super valuable,” she said. After the Paralympics, Lettenberger is looking forward to returning to Rice.
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