17-year-old Valerio Catoia was enjoying a day at the beach when the unexpected happened. His father, younger sister and he had gone to Sabaudia Beach in the region of Lazio, Italy. But the pleasant afternoon took a drastic turn when they heard two girls screaming for help from the water. The girls, 10 and 14, were being dragged out to sea by a strong tide and could not make it back to shore on their own.
So Valerio and his father heroically dove in and went after them, finally reached them ad brought them back to the shore. Valerio was able to help the younger sister. It turns out he had taken a course that taught him the correct position to keep someone’s head above water in a rescue. His father managed to get the younger girl’s sister to shore as well.
Valerio was born with Down Syndrome, and it turns out he had taken up swimming at a young age, at first as a way to develop muscle strength and to be safe near water, but the hobby stuck. Now age 17, his passion had led him to participate in the Special Olympics and take water rescue training.
The dramatic rescue at the beach led to Valerio receiving overnight stardom in his country, and the story was featured in many news broadcasts and newspapers. He received recognition from the former prime minister Matteo Renzi, and was also awarded a metal for bravery by the Prime Minister of Sports Luca Lotti.
Valerio has become an inspiration for people with Down Syndrome everywhere, and a role model for younger kids with Down Syndrome hoping one day to participate in the Special Olympics.