Ahalya Lettenberger (left) and McKenzie Coan (right) pose with their medals after the Women's 400m Freestyle S7 Final at the London 2019 World Para-swimming Allianz Championships on Sept. 10, 2019 in London.
Ahalya Lettenberger’s first name appropriately means “blessing,” which is just what swimming has been to her.
Lettenberger has established herself as a rising talent in the world of Para swimming. At the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London, she won the silver medal in the 400-meter S7 freestyle and reached championship finals in a total of four events.
“That was definitely the highlight of my swimming career,” Lettenberger said. “To come home with a medal, it just can’t even be described. It was a dream come true.”
Despite being born with a form of arthrogryposis called amyoplasia, a musculoskeletal disorder that affects her from the hips down, Lettenberger has always been athletic. She began swimming at age 11 to cope with chronic hip pain and made an immediate splash. She began competing at age 12 and medals soon followed.
“I’m a really competitive person,” said Lettenberger, who had to give up land-based sports such as soccer and softball as she got older. “Eventually, that got too hard on my legs.”
Lettenberger, who is from an athletic family, certainly didn’t want to give up sports. A neighbor suggested swimming.
“I decided to give it a try, and I guess the rest is sort of history,” Lettenberger said. “It was this freedom I’d never really experienced before. For swimming, I was just like anybody else.
“I didn’t have a wheelchair holding me back or braces holding me back or other restrictions. It was just me and the pool. That’s what’s amazing about swimming.”
A native of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, Lettenberger graduated from Glenbard West High School. The 19-year-old is now a sophomore at Rice University in Houston, where she is studying bioengineering and is a member of the women’s varsity swimming team. Rice opened its pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season Oct. 23 at Texas A&M.
“Campus is definitely different,” said Lettenberger of the COVID-19 restrictions at Rice. “Thank goodness we can still have practice. We just have an amazing team culture where we all support each other unconditionally.”
Lettenberger said she was drawn to Rice because of the balance she could achieve between academics and Division I collegiate swimming. She also has Para swimming to fit into the mix.