When Adriana and Esteban Sotela were children, their parents noticed developmental discrepancies between the twins. While Esteban was learning new skills quickly, Adriana had trouble with reading, language, fine and gross motor skills, and other social interactions. Diagnosed with an intellectual developmental disorder, Adriana faced numerous developmental hurdles growing up.
Now 22, Adriana is making waves as she prepares to swim on the Costa Rican team at the Special Olympics World Games for the second time. And she'll have her family — including sister Gabriela, who works for Coca-Cola — cheering her on every step of the way.
Adriana took up swimming nine years ago after competing on a bowling team for two years and quickly discovered an unrivaled passion for the water. She has competed in Special Olympics Swimming Competitions for the last six years, and boasts an impressive record of first-place wins in the 800- and 1500-metre freestyle competitions. After exceptional performances in two regional meets and two first-place finishes at the Costa Rica Special Olympics National Games last year, Adriana was selected to compete at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, which kicks off later this month in Los Angeles. She will participate in three events, the individual 800-metre and 4x100-metre relay—both aquatic events held at the pool—as well as the 1.5-km open water swim at Long Beach.
“This will be a very different experience for me because of the cold water in the sea,” Adriana explained, as she is accustomed to open water competitions in the warmer Caribbean-Pacific waters. Yet she says she's not nervous.
Swimming has taken her all over the world, from the Special Olympics Latin America Regional Games to the Central American and Caribbean Games, to meets in Puerto Rico, Panama, and the Cayman Islands. Adriana is no stranger to the global stage. She competed in the Special Olympics World Games in Athens in 2011.
“I love traveling and competing outside the country,” she adds. The only thoughts on her mind for L.A., she says, are to improve her times and win a medal.
A Family Affair
After watching Adriana at a competition in Puerto Rico in 2010, older sister Gabriela, a PIAP (Personnel Integrity Assurance Program) specialist for Coca-Cola in Costa Rica, decided to give the sport a try. “I said, If they can do it, I can do it,” said Gabriela, 26. She says the Special Olympics athletes she has met motivated her to dive in to the sport.
“I always say it’s about trying no matter what. You can achieve whatever you want, and that’s what I have learned from these Special Olympics athletes,” she said.
The sisters frequently train together, though Gabriela admits her sister trains harder. Nevertheless, swimming gives them an opportunity to pursue their athletic passions together. “It has brought us closer,” said Gabriela. “We can talk about swimming a lot, and if we go to trainings together, we can spend a lot of time with each other.”
For Gabriela, Adriana has always been a role model of strength, positivity and determination. “She’s my inspiration,” Gabriela said, “She always has a great attitude and gives full effort in everything that she does,” she said, citing Adriana’s perseverance as the key to overcoming challenges and achieving success.
Though Adriana is rarely nervous, Gabriela confesses that she always gets nervous watching her sister swim and is constantly overcome with emotion and excitement by her successes. “I cry and everything, but it’s exciting!” she said.
The entire Sotela family has remained an anchor of unconditional love, support and encouragement throughout Adriana’s swimming career, attending all of her swim meets throughout the years. This year’s World Games is no exception, as Adriana’s parents, Esteban, Gabriela and older sister Cristina will travel to L.A.
“We try to be at every competition cheering on not only my sister, but all of the athletes. There are a lot of emotions involved,” said Gabriela, who believes the support of their family has been a critical part of Adriana’s participation in Special Olympics.
After the competition, Adriana looks forward to celebrating with her family, trainer and friends, many of whom she has met through competitions over the years, and toasting to her successes with her favorite drinks— Fanta and Coca-Cola.
“She is the biggest Coca-Cola fan,” said Gabriela of her sister.
Coca-Cola is the founding partner of Special Olympics, the world’s largest sports organisation for both adults and children with intellectual disabilities.
“We are very proud to be a part of the Special Olympics Family,” said Gabriela, who has been very engaged with the organisation through Coca-Cola since working for the company. “And we are just very, very excited.”
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