From Zulfiya to Esra, swimming knows no age: voices and generations come together in Lignano.

To grasp the breadth of the embrace of sport and Paralympic swimming, it is enough to see the number of people competing side by side from different countries, different backgrounds, and belonging to generations far apart.

The excitement of those facing a new experience for the first time contrasts with those who have traveled the world through sport but still find joy and amazement in the magic of swimming. Youngsters gaze, seeking to uncover the secrets of the older athletes, to learn and gather courage before diving into the water.

A role model for the younger ones is undoubtedly Zulfiya Gabidullina, born in 1965 in Kazakhstan, the most experienced athlete at this stage of the CITI Para Swimming World Series 2024: “It’s the second time I’ve come to Lignano. There is a beautiful atmosphere here, lots of people, and it even seems like there are more athletes than at the Paralympics, and the competition is fierce.”

Esra Yuce is the youngest athlete present in Lignano Sabbiadoro, and for her, at 12 years old, it’s her first time outside her country, Turkey. “It’s beautiful to be here: I’m very happy and having fun. Everyone I meet smiles at me.”

“My dream is to qualify for the Paralympics and maybe even win a medal.”

Zulfiya, on the other hand, knows very well how to compete in the Paralympics: “I competed three times in the Paralympic Games and won a gold medal in Rio 2016. Now I want to qualify for Paris 2024 as well.” Back home, they printed a stamp in her honor after her triumph in the 100m freestyle S3 in Rio.

A piece of advice for Esra and emerging athletes: “I want to tell those who have just started their aquatic journey that the main thing is never to give up. Also, it’s important to always have the support of family and your coach.”

How did it all start? “I started doing sports at the age of 24. I knew how to swim since childhood but as a hobby and not professionally. I started swimming competitively only in 2007. I tried all kinds of sports: wheelchair dancing, athletics, but I liked swimming the most, so I continue to do it.”

Esra’s journey, on the other hand, is just beginning and started thanks to her coach’s intuition who noticed her at school, proposing a rehabilitation program in the water, and then, seeing her energy, decided to enroll her in a race. “I am young, in fact, I know I am the youngest here, but I am happy with how the races are going, compared to when I compete in Turkey, I am thriving thanks to the atmosphere and I am improving all my times.” Her aquatic adventure has just begun.