AGE 16 | Egypt
Aya is Egypt's first and youngest female Paralympic swimmer to have ever competed in the Paralympics. During the Rio 2016 Games Aya competed on the world stage. At just 16, Aya has competed in world championships and for the Egyptian National Swimming Team.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, where did you see yourself when you were younger and where you see yourself in the future?
I grew up in Cairo. Born and raised. When I was younger I wanted to be a doctor, but at the same time I also wanted to be an actress. My goal is to become the first and youngest Olympic female medalist as well the first [Egyptian] actress with a disability.
When did you start playing sports?
I started to practice in 2006 when I was looking for a suitable sport for disabled individuals.
"What the water does to me is incredible, I can be like everyone else, I forget about my disability. I actually don't feel it at all."
Why did you want to start playing sports?
I have loved the water ever since I was young, it gives me a sense of freedom. I feel like everyone else, actually I don’t even feel my disability.
What was your biggest challenge to get into the sport?
The biggest challenge I set for myself was to get into the the world championships or the paralympics and be the first and youngest female Paralympian in Egyptian history.
How did you overcome that challenge?
I used to practice every morning and afternoon until I qualified for the world championships. There were athletes that I used to look up to, that I wanted to be like. After I reached the Paralympics, I now know them personally.
How has your participation in the sport affected you as a person?
It gave me the strength, determination, persistence and will power. I always have hope that nothing can negatively affect me. I began to like challenge, and aim to change the way people look at swimming as a sport. My goal is to also change the way people look at individuals with disabilities as a burden on the community. If people saw me and got to know me, I know their perception will change, and they’ll know that we are capable of doing anything, especially since many of us have made it to the Paralympics.
If there was one thing you could change in the sport or people’s perception what would it be?
I would like to send the message across that disability is not a physical barrier, but a mental one. The most important thing for a disabled person is to have determination, courage, strength, challenge, faith in God and to know that you can do it. Some people may try to put you down, conquer or fail you throughout your life, but you must keep trying and challenge yourself, because nobody can make you dreams come true but you.
"Some people may try to put you down, conquer or fail you throughout your life, but you must keep trying and challenge yourself because nobody can make you dreams come true but you."