The Unique & Able Project spoke to Simone Barlaam this year during the pandemic over Zoom to find out more about this super-talented young man. Simone Barlaam is a seven-time World Para champion swimmer who holds record breaking time for the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and 100m backstroke in the S9 class. He is also a four-time European champion. This next summer, he will take part in the Paralympic 2021 to be held in Japan on August 24 to September 5, 2021. Along with all these wins, he is also a great artist, excellent student with a vision and someone who has overcome great challenges to be where he is today.
Born with a medical condition that affected his hip and a congenital hypoplasia of the right femur that did not allow the bone to develop, the medical term is coxa vera, doctors complicated his situation when they performed an in-utero maneuver to turn him from the podalic position and broke his femur, which was very fragile. As a result, as a child he underwent more than 13 surgeries, had a life-threatening infection that nearly killed him and spent years in braces and receiving physical therapy. Despite all those challenges, Simone is always ready to set extraordinary goals for himself.
When we spoke with Simone, he was optimistic and relieved that the Tokyo 2020 games had been postponed. “I am just relieved they postponed the games so that all the competing athletes will be safe. That is more important than anything,” he said. His relentlessly positive attitude is contagious, and he wants to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering. One of his dreams is to create a prosthesis that would help people who have disabilities.
We asked Simone how did he got to where he is today? “As a child, swimming was the sport I could do that would strengthen my muscles and not put pressure on my bones.” His father, Riccardo Barlaam, reached out and found a coach and an afterschool swim class to help his son.
Back when he was 10, Simone became bored with his regional swim team and looked for bigger challenges. He found the FINP, the Italian Paralytic Swimming Federation and in 2014, competed in FITRI Paratriathlon Italian Championships where he received a bronze medal. His next step was to contact FINP trainer, Massimiliano Tosin, and other Paralympic athletes. He was inspired by other athletes who were swimming fast despite their disabilities. He began a rigorous training period and today can train up to 18 hours a week. That led Simone to the world of swim competition, and ultimately to being a world champion competing at the 2021 Paralympic games.
Mr. Barlaam, an Italian journalist, has this advice for parents of children with disabilities, “Follow up and find whatever activity they can do. Enlist the help of a coach so that your child has other adults to connect with. That can sometimes make the difference for your child developing in a way you would never have predicted.”
We are looking forward to a follow-up interview with the Barlaam’s after the 2021 Paralympics.