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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Ahalya Lettenberger ’23 awarded Marshall Scholarship

Courtesy Ahalya Lettenberger

By Aisha Khemani     1/9/24 11:00pm

Ahalya Lettenberger, a recent graduate and swim team member, was awarded the Marshall Scholarship Dec. 11, which fully funds two years of study abroad in the United Kingdom for up to 51 students annually. She is the first Rice student to receive the scholarship since 2018 and the first student-athlete since 1999.

“I applied because I’ve always wanted to live and study abroad, and the U.K. has been where I wanted to go because they’re leaders in the field of assistive technology, which is what I want to go into,” Lettenberger, now a visiting post-baccalaureate at Rice, said. “The U.K. is known for being advanced in disability rights, inclusion, assistive technology and disability sport.” 

Lettenberger, who majored in bioengineering, plans to pursue a master’s degree in sports biomechanics from the University of Loughborough and disability, design and innovation at University College London.

“My bioengineering degree definitely prepared me for what’s to come and my application,” Lettenberger said.  “At Rice, I was able to do everything I wanted to do in college. I swam at Rice, and then I studied bioengineering and was also able to do research for three and a half years in the Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Lab, also known as the MAHI Lab. I worked on surgical robotics, and I also worked on an upper arm exostosis [device] that helps people who are paralyzed, or have had traumatic brain injury.” 

Lettenberger was born with arthrogryposis, a physical disability causing muscle weakness and impaired range of motion. She credits swimming for boosting her self-confidence.

“Through swimming, I met so many different people with all different types of disabilities,” Lettenberger said. “That changed my life because I learned to embrace my disability. I want to give back to that community through assistive technology and provide independence for people with disabilities.”

During her five seasons swimming for Rice, Lettenberger has won international awards, including a silver medal in the S7 200-meter individual medley and fourth place in the 400-meter freestyle in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. She also placed second in the 2019 and 2023 World Para Swimming Championships for the 400-meter freestyle. 

“My team and my coaches are like a second family to me, and they’ve supported me so much. Through Rice, I qualified for the Paralympics in 2021 in Tokyo, and I medalled there, and that was my lifelong dream.” Lettenberger said. 

Catherine Eland, a member of the swim team, said she respects Lettenberger for her joyous personality and grit.

“I have only spent one semester on the team with [Lettenberger], but as soon as I joined the team, she has been an absolute joy to be around,” Eland, a McMurtry College freshman, wrote in an email to the Thresher. “She has such a bubbly personality and an infectious sense of humor that the most difficult of practices are made a lot easier. She has this great mix of being fun and outgoing as well as highly determined and laser focused.”

Lettenberger was a visiting post-baccalaureate at Rice during the Fall 2023 semester so she could remain eligible to compete with Rice Swimming. Even though she plans to compete professionally in 2024, she will continue to train alongside the Rice swimming team.

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