13-year old Jiya Rai, who became the youngest swimmer with Autistic Spectrum Disorder to swim 36km in 8 hours and 40 minutes has been awarded the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar 2022.
On 17 February 2021, Jiya Rai created history by swimming from Bandra-Worli Sea Link to Gateway of India, a distance of 36km, in record time. She commenced her record setting feat at 0350 hrs from Bandra-Worli Sea Link and completed at Gateway of India at 1230 hrs. The event that was conducted under observation of Swimming Association of Maharashtra was to raise awareness about Autism as Jiya is a known case of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Previous to that feat, in February 2020, Jiya placed her name in India Book of Records for her record-breaking achievement of swimming a 14km distance from Elephanta Island to Gateway of India in 3 hrs, 27 mins and 30 sec. In March 2020, she won 3 gold medals in a national para-swimming championship with a national record in 200m freestyle event. In January 2019, at the age of 10 years 7 months, Jiya Rai won a gold medal in the 5km event in the National Open Water Sea Swimming Championship held at Porbandar. She also swam the toughest route of the Arabian Sea from Arnala Fort to Vasai Fort, a distance of 22 km in 7 hrs and 4 mins.
The Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar is the highest civilian award for Indian citizens under the age of 18. Jiya Rai, the daughter of Naval sailor Madan Rai, recieved the award during a virtual event. Jiya was among the 29 children shortlisted for the award from 629 candidates across various fields. Following the event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated Jiya by tweeting, “Jiya Rai is an inspiration for everyone. At a young age, she defied odds to become India’s top ranking open water para swimmer. Congratulations to her for the Rashtriya Bal Puraskar.”
Jiya was born in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh but frwe up in Cochin, Goa and Mumbai due to her father’s official posting. It was on her second birthday that her parents realised that their daughter was ‘special’. Since then, the Rai family has set a challenge for themselves- breaking the social barriers and making history along the way.