Maria Francescotti

Laser Focused and Lightning Fast

December 2023 IssueMariaFrancescotti 1223

by Jacie Elizabeth Millen
Photography by Mary Beth Lyons

“You will succeed if you persevere; and you will find joy in overcoming obstacles. –Helen Keller

What makes a champion? Is it skill? Drive? Hard work? For Maria Francescotti it is all of these mixed with tremendous discipline and perseverance. At age 16, Maria is a champion swimmer. Not only does she strictly adhere to proper nutrition, train diligently, and love to compete, she does it all even though she was born with Poland Syndrome and Symbrachydactyly.

Poland Syndrome is a condition where someone is born with missing or underdeveloped chest muscles. In addition, they may have webbed or fused fingers as another sign of the condition ( According to, Symbrachydactyly occurs when an arm or hand does not develop completely. Sometimes, one hand may be smaller than the other. Both Poland Syndrome and Symbrachydactyly happen as the fetus is developing in the mother’s womb. In Maria’s case, her right arm, upper chest, shoulder, and right hand are affected. However, her conditions have never stopped her from reaching her goals.

“When I was younger, I would come home from school, drop everything, immediately put on my bathing suit, run to find my mom, and beg to go swimming. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Maria said.

She started swimming at age 5. Since then, she has competed in hundreds of swim meets all across the country. Last December, at the USA Para Swimming Nationals in Charlotte, NC, Maria competed in the Freestyle, Fly and Breaststroke, placing first in the 200 Breaststroke. This past November, Maria was invited to compete on Team USA at the Parapan American Games, an international multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities, held every four years. This year it was in Santiago, Chile. Out of 36 para swimmers, 16 men and 20 women, Maria is one of the youngest swimmers to represent the United States. She raced in the 100 Freestyle and 100 Backstroke, and expressed she is always going for the gold!

Locally, Maria swims for Hilton Head Aquatics (H2A) with Coaches JJ Johns and Mike Lane. The Francescotti family actually moved to Bluffton from New York after searching for a quality swimming program all over the country. The family and the coaches are happy they chose H2A. “Maria is a fantastic young lady who is always trying to learn. She’s really got a mindset for her goals, and it shows,” Coach Johns said. He has helped her excel in reaching her goals in numerous ways. He taught himself how to swim a one-armed butterfly, the way Maria has to swim it. This way he can better understand the challenges she faces and the obstacles she has to overcome to do her best. In addition, he wanted to protect her from injury and make sure she wasn’t overusing some muscles while not using others. There is great mutual respect between coach and athlete.

One thing about Maria is she does not want her differences to define her or give her any excuses. She doesn’t want to be known as a great swimmer with disabilities, she simply wants to be known as a great swimmer. From the very beginning, she was a natural swimmer, though she had to modify the strokes for her body. Her biggest challenge was finding her balance in the water.

Maria is homeschooled, which works best with her grueling travel schedule. It’s not surprising she is also an excellent student–definitely one smart cookie. Speaking of cookies, Maria loves to bake biscotti and cookies every year at Christmastime. But here’s where her discipline reigns; she doesn’t eat one cookie during swim season. Not one. Now, if we go back to the question of what makes a champion, this right here is probably the answer—determination made of steel.

Maria’s impact on the community isn’t just how good of a swimmer is; she also generously gives back. At H2A, she loves to help coach the younger swimmers. To say the least, they adore her as much as she adores them. Maria is loved by all. “My team is so supportive, and we are like a big family that celebrates every success.” Maria said.

Laser focused and lightning fast, Maria has a bright future ahead of her. She is one special young lady. We are rooting for you Maria!


Up Close:

Hopes and Dreams: Maria has always dreamed of owning her own bakery, particularly a gluten-free one. She specializes in gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, corn-free and vegan baked goods, as her family eats gluten and dairy free.

Rooting You On: Maria’s teammates, coaches and the entire swim community rooted for Maria in Chile. Her parents and sister, who Maria considers her best friend, traveled to cheer her on in person!

Love of the Lowcountry: “My favorite part about the Lowcountry is how sunny it is all the time. I also love when I drive over the bridge to practice, I get to see dolphins a lot. It’s so pretty here.”