Champion Swimmers With An Extra Chromosome

 “First we fell in love with swimming, and then we fell in love with each other”


champion swimmers

Sean and Melisa O’Neill – Image Provided


The O’Neill’s have are world renowned champion swimmers despite all odds. The winning swimming couple both have Down Syndrome- but that hasn’t stopped them from pursuing their passion for the water, and each other. 


“Together they train, motivate one another, compete – and win.”


The swimmers are originally from Queensburgh – Melisa is 26 and Sean is 24. The two have participated in the  Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships in Canada, organized by Down Syndrome International Swimming Organisation (DSISO).  

The Down Syndrome International Swimming Organisation was created to provide swimmers with Down Syndrome the opportunity to swim at a World Class level.  The World Championships are held every two years.

“In 2002 the first championship was held in Reading, England;  2004 Durban, South Africa;  2006 Limerick, Ireland;  2008 Albufeira, Portugal; 2010 Tapei, Taiwan; 2012 Loano, Italy; 2014 Morelia, Mexico, 2016 Florence, Italy and 2018, Truro, Canada.   The next championship will take place in Turkey in 2020.”


champion swimmers

Sean and Melisa O’Neill

This year’s results?  SA makes the TOP TEN: 

1.   Australia
2.  Great Britain
3.  Italy
4.  Canada
5.  Mexico
6.  South Africa
7.  Brazil
8.  Portugal
9.  France
10. United States of America


Despite only having competitively trained for a few years, our homegrown girl Melisa O’Neill ranks number four, in the world! 

1.   Dunia Camacho (Mexico)
2.   Phoebe Mitchell (Australia)
3.   Maria Bresciani (Italy)
4.   Melisa O’Neill (South Africa)
5.   Cleo Renou  (France)  (Junior)
6.   Ayako Morishita (Japan)
7.   Sabrina Chiappa (Italy)
8.  Paola Veloz (Mexico)
9.  Jennifer Higgins (South Africa)
1o. Martina Villanova (Italy)

Over and above that, she was also named the 2018 Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability at the KwaZulu-Natal Sports Awards.

champion swimmers

The O’Neill Couple – Image Provided

Their accomplishments are an absolute inspiration and motivational force for all to believe in themselves and their dreams.  They are the living proof that, as a society, we need to do our best to break down the stigma around Down Syndrome that creates nothing but a destructive and backward dynamic. 


“If we can do it, you can too” – Sean O’Neill.



Learn more about facts about Down Syndrome and accomplished people with an extra chromosome:



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Author: Reporter @ Amanzi

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