Autistic teenager sets swimming world record

From Volume 3 Number 12

LIBEREC, Czech Republic: An autistic South Korean boy has set a world record at a swimming championship for the disabled.

            Kim Jin-ho, 19, a participant in the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) World Championship in Liberec, the Czech Republic, won a gold medal in the 200-metre backstroke, setting a world record of 2 minutes, 24.49 seconds. Kim broke the previous record of 2:28.05 by about three seconds. The world record for the event among non-disabled people is 1:54.66. He also won a silver medal for the 200-metre freestyle and a bronze for the 100-metre backstroke.

            Kim's medals mean more than just winning prizes to him and to his parents, who have devoted themselves to helping their mentally challenged son.

            It was in 1989, when Kim was three years old, that his parents, Kim Ki-bok, 47, and Yu Hyon-kyong, 45, found out that their son, who could not speak a word and did not make eye contact with others, was autistic.

            Yu, who had worked as a Japanese teacher, has had to stand by her son all the time since he was diagnosed with autism. She confessed that she was tempted to kill herself and her son many times.

            However, Yu devoted her life to her son. Hearing from experts that the natural environment was good for autism, Yu took Kim to the mountains for a year and let him play in nature.

            When Kim began elementary school in Seoul, his mother attended class with him. But he was expelled only a month after admission because he kept performing odd acts, such as cutting his hair during class.

            While searching for schools that would admit her son, Yu also taught Kim. She gave him strict training in table manners and speech to help him adapt to social life.

            Because he loved playing in the water since he was an infant, the mother made Kim learn how to swim when he was in the fifth grade.

            "Jin-ho learned how to communicate with the world through water. He also learned patience through the same trainings as that of non-disabled students," Yu said.

            Kim entered a middle school in Suwon, and Yu followed Kim to all the cities across South Korea where swimming events were held. After graduating from middle school, Kim entered Busan Physical Education High School in Pusan.

            Yu also moved to Pusan to assist her son, leaving her husband in Suwon. It was her fifth move for her son.

            His mother's devotion and the intensive training helped Kim win two medals at the national sports festival for the disabled in May 2001, and two medals at the 8th Busan Far East and South Pacific (FESPIC) Games in September 2002. He also ranked second in a try-out for the Pusan regional team for the National Sports Festival in May, where he competed with non-disabled players.

            "I'm so proud of Jin-ho because he hasn't lost the smile on his face despite hard training, and he set a world record. I'll help him do anything he wants to achieve," Yu said.

            Last year, Yu published a book entitled An Autistic Child Has a Special Gift to share Kim's story of overcoming the disorder and becoming an award-winning swimmer.                 

Kim and his mother were due to return home from the Czech Republic on September 13, 2005.

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