Celebrating World Autism Awareness Day with Danish Golden Girl, Maria-Kjer’s Inspiring Journey

In the realm of high-performance sports, barriers were not just broken but shattered at the 2023 Virtus Global Games (GG2023), marking a historic moment as the II3 eligibility group, dedicated to athletes with autism, was incorporated into the full medal program for the first time.

Among the many inspiring stories that emerged, Maria-Kjer Rasmussen, a Danish swimmer with autism, stood out as a beacon of talent and determination. Her journey at GG2023 was nothing short of spectacular, clinching an impressive tally of eight gold medals across various disciplines, from backstroke to butterfly.

Reflecting on her experience, Maria shared,

The GG2023 was a transformative journey filled with camaraderie and newfound friendships from across the globe. Competing against fellow II3 athletes was empowering, and to return home with eight gold medals was beyond my wildest dreams.

Maria’s journey is not just about athletic prowess but also about overcoming challenges associated with autism. Supported by her coach Mads Maj and her family, she found solace and joy in swimming, turning her passion into a remarkable success story.

Speaking about her autism, Maria emphasized,

“It’s a part of me, shaping my journey in swimming and beyond. While it may pose challenges, I’ve found understanding and support, especially from organizations like Virtus Sport.”

Maria-Kjer before her 200m backstroke event (left) and sharing one of her eight golden podiums at GG2023. Photo Credit: T.NGUYEN

Virtus Sport’s commitment to inclusivity has played a pivotal role in Maria’s sporting endeavours, providing a platform where individuals with invisible impairments can compete on equal footing.

“I was really excited to know that a competition group for people with autism was found by Virtus Sport last year, and that now we can compete in the sports we love on fair terms as everyone else, with other people with autism.”

Looking ahead, Maria’s sights are set on the GG2027 in Cairo, aiming to surpass her previous achievements and set new records.

The introduction of the II3 eligibility class as a full medal event signifies a monumental stride towards inclusivity in high-performance sports. With anticipation building for the upcoming GG2027, Maria’s story serves as an inspiration to athletes worldwide.

Maria-Kjer has become an inspiration not only to her fellow Danes but also to individuals across the globe after her success at GG2023. Her journey resonates deeply with aspiring athletes, and she has a heartfelt message for those who look up to her:

Dream big, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Embrace the challenges, cherish the victories, and never lose sight of the joy in sports.”

Maria’s journey is a testament to the power of perseverance and the boundless potential within every individual, regardless of their challenges.

Lene-Kjer, Maria’s devoted mother, shared her enthusiasm and unwavering support for the groundbreaking II3 class.

“As a parent, myself and many others have closely followed the journey of developing this II3 class by Virtus Sport,”

“We are thrilled that they now have a full competition class where athletes can not only win medals like the II1 and II2 classes but also set World Records, pushing boundaries and inspiring themselves and others to excel even further.”

To learn more about the II3 eligibility class or to apply for eligibility, visit https://www.virtus.sport/applying-for-athlete-eligibility#tab-id-3 and be a part of the movement towards a more inclusive sporting world.

Watch the video from the #AthleteFirst campaign where Jan Burns, Virtus Eligibility head explains the II3 eligibility class along with exciting messages from athletes with autism and intellectual impairments about the II3 medal event at GG2023.