GOVERNMENT through its Ministry of Sport will be spared the burden of huge financial assistance to sporting organisations this year.

When national swimmer Shanntol Ince represents Trinidad and Tobago at this year's Paralympic Games in London, England, she will have little to prove.

That's because Shanntol has already won the hearts of her people.

Citizens showed their love and appreciation of the teenager's achievements by helping to vote her the Express Individual of the Year 2011.

Readers were allowed to help chose the winner. Voting took place via text messaging and the final selection was made by a panel of judges.

Shanntol's competitors for this year's award were sprinter Kelly-Ann Baptiste who was named Best Female Athlete of the Year at the Ministry of Sport Spirit of Sports awards and reigning Soca Monarch and Road March King Machel Montano.

Last year's winner was Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Shanntol, 17, created history by becoming the country's first Paralympic athlete to compete at last year's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India and is looking forward to representing the country again at the games in August. She captured bronze medals at the Parapan Games held in Guadalajara, Mexico in November of last year, in the 100m backstroke and 100m freestyle.

When told of her achievement yesterday by the Sunday Express, Shanntol shouted with joy.

She said she was honoured to have been chosen and she thanked all those who supported her, including her parents St Paul Ince and Tracy James-Ince.

"I am very excited really. I am thankful to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the church, to all my aunts and uncles and to the whole of Trinidad and Tobago for giving me the opportunity to become Express Individual of the Year.'

"My mom supports me very much. She carries me to training every day and I know it is a bit difficult with her hectic schedule and dad, he is always giving me speeches and stuff."

Shanntol, who was born with her right leg significantly shorter than her left, said her disability never discouraged her from doing what she wanted to do.

She was introduced to swimming at the age of four while attending kindergarten and she never stopped practising.

The fifth form pupil of the Gasparillo Secondary School thanked her first coach Neil Daniel and her current coach Ralph Linky.

Her father said, "When everyone was looking at her disability, he (Daniel) believed in her and told her 'I could teach a fish to swim'. He took her under his care and taught her for a while and then he introduced her to another swimming club."

On Friday, when the Sunday Express visited her home at Claxton Bay, Shanntol was just returning from a swimming session with the Petrotrin Barracudas Swim Club.

Shanntol trains for two hours, six days a week, yet still finds time to study for her upcoming CXC examinations next year.

She also never misses a youth group meeting held on Fridays at the Claxton Bay Open Bible Church.

She said there were many sacrifices she had to make but one of her main goals was practising for next year's competition in London.

She hopes to get distinctions in her CXC examinations and is looking forward to continuing her studies.

About his eldest daughter, Ince said: "She is very humble. She likes to stay in the background and be happy for everybody. I try to teach her good morals and to be consistent and to keep pressing forward."

He said sometimes he felt discouraged but he never gave up on her.

Ince, a fabricator and builder, said it was tough providing for his family and especially Shanntol financially but he was proud of her achievements and hoped that she can be more successful than she already is.

Shanntol is the eldest of five children.

Obadyah, 11; Yehezke, eight; and twins Sarai and Shalom, two, all look up to her and want to be like her, said Ince .

Shanntol said, "It gives me great responsibility and it pushes me a bit harder. I have to raise the bar so they could have greater things than I can."

Ince said he was happy that she was finally being recognised for her achievements.

"Even though she was excelling she was not being recognised. And she has been competing against some of the top swimmers. It is only last year that that people are getting to know about her and we are happy because of that."

Earlier this year, Shanntol was chosen along with five other people to be ambassadors in the Ministry of the People and Social Development Disability Programme.

Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, Social Development Minister, said the individuals chosen will act as spokespersons for people with disabilities.

Shanntol is studying sciences because she loves to help people especially those who are disabled like herself, she said.

She hopes to one day become an orthopaedic surgeon or a practitioner of occupational therapy.

Her new year's resolutions are to study and train more.

"I have to make an official time table and follow through with it. I also have to train smarter. I have to think about what could improve, how I could improve techniques and do what the coach says."

She advises others, "Don't give up on anything that you are doing. In life there will be different struggles and they will not last forever. You just need to keep trying to better yourself and trust in God."

By Sue-Ann Wayow