Living with a disability can be hard for any child. On top of learning or developmental issues, children with disabilities also are far more likely to be the victims of bullying in the United States. According to some studies, nearly 60% of children with disabilities in the US are victims of bullying—compared with 25% of children without any disabilities.
Yet, despite society’s rather harsh treatment, these wonderful people can make huge impacts.
Indeed, when one Italian boy with Down Syndrome heard cries for help from two young girls, he did not hesitate. While the world might not be kind to people with disabilities, this brave, heroic boy showed that everyone can make a difference—and his heroism led to the rescue of two lives that day.
Valerio Catoia was born to be a swimmer.
Valerio Catoia had been swimming as early as he could walk. The Italian-born teenager was born with Down Syndrome, but since he was three-years-old his parents had enrolled him in swimming classes. It was their hope that the classes would help give him confidence and an opportunity to make friends.
However, against his parents most wild expectations, Valerio took to swimming like he was born to do it. Not only did he love it, he was also an incredibly strong swimmer. In fact, he even participated in the Special Olympics and completed rescue and lifeguard training.
As an accomplished swimmer, Valerio spent a lot of time at the beaches of Italy’s Lazio region, where he lived with his family. These were meant to be fun excursions; however, one such occasion turned potentially deadly.
Valerio heard the cries of two young sisters—they were in danger of drowning.
In July, Valerio was swimming and enjoying the sun when he heard something odd—the faint cries of two young girls. Valerio searched the beach, but could not place the sound. With a sinking feeling, he turned his gaze towards the sea.
There, he spotted two young girls, aged 10 and 14, who were crying for help and desperately flailing their arms in the deep blue water.
At this point, many might have called for help or froze. Valerio did not hesitate for a moment.
He acted quickly. He called his father, also an accomplished swimmer of his own, and the two rushed into the surf.
They paddled out to the exhausted and distressed young girls and helped keep their heads above water as the father and son pulled the distressed swimmers to shore.
Lifeguards showed up later to administer first aid, but the two were safe thanks to Valerio’s swift action.
Despite the harrowing experience, the two girls, sisters, were safe. Valerio was even hailed as a hero and recognized by the Italian government’s Ministry of Sports.
But for Valerio, it was nothing special. For him, he was just in the right place at the right time.
People with disabilities often are mocked or looked down on by society, but Valerio’s act of heroism is an example to us all that every single person has an incredible part to play. Even though we might look or act differently, we all have the ability to make a huge impact if given the chance.