My Journal by Luka Willems

Take your Marks – GO

The 10th World Down Syndrome Champs, Albufeira, Portugal. 17-22 Oct ‘22



My name is Luka Willems and I come from Christchurch. I’ve been on an exciting adventure. I flew to Portugal so I could swim and compete at the 10th World Down Syndrome Championships in Albufeira.


There were 163 swimmers from 23 countries. The event was an indoor short course competition.


Some teams like Portugal, America, Mexico and Great Britain were big. Some teams like Finland, Norway and Iraq only had one swimmer. I was the first swimmer to represent New Zealand.




I qualified and raced in 8 events: 50m freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, 100m freestyle and breaststroke, 200m freestyle and the 100m IM.


I competed in the men’s T21 senior category. That means people with Trisome 21 (Down Syndrome), who are 18 years and older.


I got 6 lifetime bests from my 8 races. My highest world ranking was 13th for 50m breaststroke. I am so proud that I did so well.


My Journal


I had 4 days of training at the Municipal pool in Albufeira before competition started. I was lucky to join the GB team with their warmups and training. Otherwise, my mum would have been my coach.


It was busy and noisy, with so many swimmers in each lane. Many people spoke different languages and some rules were new to me. I had to learn about whistle starts. I found it hard and even wanted to go home sometimes.


Mum said to look and find strength inside me, so I did it!


The Opening ceremony was awesome. We all walked along a beach board walk and each country was celebrated. I was the flag bearer for NZ.




Day 1

I was so nervous that I nearly missed the warmup. I went to the Call Up room (Marshalling), 15 minutes before my race and felt all alone. However, when I got on the starting block, I was excited to race. I swam like a rocket. I had good starts and kept my cool.


World ranking men’s T21 senior

28th – 100m freestyle (PB) of 56 competitors

24th – 50m backstroke (PB)



Day 2

I had 3 races back-to-back, but I wasn’t as nervous. My new friends helped me feel happy and welcome. I also wore my headphones, so it wasn’t so noisy.


I pushed myself to swim fast and it was exciting to compete beside other good swimmers with Down Syndrome. I had to think really hard about my technique because the officials were really strict. I was proud not to get a DQ and be successful.


World ranking

16th – 200m freestyle. 17 secs off my PB! Whoops, some of us swam 10 lengths instead of 8.

14th – 100m breaststroke. I had to run to get to this race … I had just enough time to eat a banana.

35th – 50m butterfly (3 seconds off my PB).

64 swimmers did this race. 50m butterfly was the most popular race of the whole competition. Everyone liked to show off their muscles.


Day 3

I joined the GB team for a warmup which made me race ready. I only had 1 race, so I didn’t feel so much pressure. I had time to get prepared.


My breaststroke is really improving, and I like it more and more.


World ranking

13th – 50m breaststroke and I got a mega PB.



Day 4

We all had a day off and we went to see some dolphins and seals and it rained!!!


Day 5

No racing for me and today felt like a holiday. We went exploring and I rested. We went to Seville in Spain. It was beautiful.


Day 6 – final day of competition

It was hard to start again and get the feeling for racing. All the other swimmers were excited but exhausted too. The competition seemed very long. Some people had meltdowns. Some members of the GB team helped me get motivated and gave me hugs. By the time I raced I was excited. I tried really hard to concentrate and swim fast.


World rankings men’s T21 senior

26th – 50m freestyle (PB). My time is the fastest I have ever swum. 37.73sec.

17th – 100m IM. I was proud to do all the strokes and appropriate turns.


Favourite Things

New friends, Sunsets, beaches, racing hard and being proud to be a New Zealander.

AND I HAD MY 20TH BIRTHDAY IN PORTUGAL. Now I am 20 years old.


Thank you to everyone that helped me train back in Christchurch. Jasi, Reuben Lim and Huia and his team.


I have enjoyed my trip to Portugal and taking part in the Worlds. I will remember it forever. I hope my journey inspires you to do something new and maybe challenging too.


I performed at a high level and have proven that top sports are for everyone.


Ngā mihi and thanks,

Luka Willems









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