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Teenager Maria Francescotti Has Been Dreaming Big As Long As She’s Been Swimming

by Alex Abrams

Maria Francescotti competes at U.S. Paralympics Swimming Nationals in Greensboro. (Photo: Joey Kirkman)

Maria Francescotti was introduced to swimming when she was 5. For many of her nine years in the competitive sport, she’s had her eye on 2024, when she hopes to earn a trip to Europe.

 

Francescotti, who would be 17 at that year’s Paralympic Games in Paris, is making progress toward her goal.

 

In December, as a 14-year-old high school freshman, she earned a pair of medals at the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. She held her own in the pool while competing with and against athletes older than her.

 

“I’ve been focusing on 2024 and just trying to practice and get better and not jump too far ahead right now,” Francescotti said.

 

She said she didn’t really have any expectations for herself at the nationals, which were held five hours from her home in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

 

Francescotti earned her first medal on the opening night of the competition on Dec. 17. She swam a leg as her team took the bronze in the mixed 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Two days later, in the final race of the nationals, Francescotti earned a silver while racing on a team with 2020 Paralympian Matthew Torres in the mixed 4x100 individual medley.

 

“I had wanted to just enjoy it and perform (and) do my best,” Francescotti said. “And yeah, I’m really happy with how I swam.”

 

Francescotti was born with Poland Syndrome, a rare disorder in which individuals are born with missing or underdeveloped muscles on one side of their body. She has adjusted to having an underdeveloped right arm.

 

“I’ve really adapted my entire life, and it’s normal to me because it’s what I’ve always done,” Francescotti said.

 

While she played other sports growing up, Francescotti said she fell in love with the freedom she felt when she was in a pool. Her parents put her in swim lessons as a kid, and afterward she wanted to join a summer swim club team.

 

“And then from there (I) didn’t want to stop in the winter, so they told me about a club team I could swim on,” she said. “And from there I just loved swimming.”

 

Francescotti said she started thinking the Paralympics could be in her future after one of her coaches told her about a Para swimming clinic that was being held only a couple of hours from her home.

 

As she put it, the clinic was her “first introduction to the Para world.”

 

In 2019, an 11-year-old Francescotti made the news in Syracuse, New York, where her family was living, after a local bicycle shop modified a bike to accommodate her underdeveloped right arm.

 

The bike, designed by Syracuse Bike, had hand brakes only on the left side of the handlebars and an arm piece that extended on the right side for her to rest her forearm.

 

Syracuse Bike used funds raised from its annual Point 2 Pint Ride charity race to help pay for Francescotti’s modified bike.

 

At the time, Francescotti was practicing five days a week and competing for a swim team in Syracuse. Though just a sixth grader, she was already thinking about eventually qualifying for the 2024 Paris Paralympics.

 

“The biggest thing I tell Maria is that everyone has differences. We all live unique lives,” Annette Francescotti, Maria’s mother, told Syracuse.com. “It’s important that she always holds her head high and knows she can accomplish anything.”

 

Three years later, Francescotti arrived at the nationals in Greensboro as one of the younger swimmers in the field.

 

“It’s a great experience,” she said. “I loved being here and seeing everybody and swimming.”

 

Francescotti said she’s not sure what her best swimming event is yet. However, she looked comfortable swimming in the 4x100 relays alongside Torres and 27-time Paralympic medalist Jessica Long at the nationals.

 

Like Torres and Long, Francescotti hopes to someday be a Paralympian.

 

“Right now, I want to focus on 2024. I would like to go to the 2024 Paralympic Games,” Francescotti said. “That is my ultimate goal.”

 

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