It takes Dea Çaushi less than a minute to transform from a violin maestro into a basketball player.
One moment she is on stage, playing a Christmas medley for spectators at the Regional West Balkans Basketball 3x3 Tournament in Tirana, and the next she is dribbling next to a hoop.
“They go together. I play violin and I love sports.”
And that’s not all. Dea is also part of a dance group for people with intellectual disabilities and frequently performs solos at dance recitals.
She started playing basketball two years ago and represented Albania in the women’s team competition at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.
In Tirana, Dea played on a mixed gender team representing her city Elbasan. The regional tournament was held as part of European Basketball Week 2023 and featured eight teams made up of people with and without intellectual disabilities.
“I love playing basketball,” Dea said. “I like to train. I like when I train with my teammates, and what I love most is when I score three-pointers.”
While Dea cannot imagine her life without basketball now, her first love was actually the violin.
Picking up the instrument for the first time five years ago, she has since built an extensive repertoire that ranges from Christmas jingles and Albanian lullabies to Vivaldi and Mozart.
“It is tough playing violin, but on the other hand, I enjoy playing,” she said.
Dea’s love for music also translates into her second musical hobby—dance.
She has won multiple awards as part of a dance group, but even without other dancers around her or a dance studio to practice in, it is impossible to keep Dea from starting to move whenever she hears music.
“She dances at home too,” her mother Arziko Çaushi said. “Dea likes and also dances very good.”
It was Arziko who first took Dea to violin, dance and basketball lessons.
“I saw that Dea was similar to me, so she looked up to me and these are all my passions that I tried to pass on to Dea,” she said.
Signing up for the lessons was easier said than done, however, as teachers were initially hesitant to take Dea as a student.
“When I first introduced Dea to the violin teacher, she was skeptical and she said, ‘No, I can’t deal with people with intellectual disabilities.’ But I was like, ‘OK, I invite you to try to and see how she can perform and then say yes or no.’ Dea performed really good,” Arziko recalled. “The teacher was amazed by Dea’s talent, and she is very pleased that Dea has excelled even though she is a girl with an intellectual disability.”
While teachers had reservations about the young girl, her mother said she never had any doubts that Dea could succeed in anything she took up.
Time proved her right as Dea impressed in all her undertakings. Violin put her on stage in front of an international audience, basketball took her almost 2,000km away to a multi-sport games in Berlin, while her dancing talents earn her frequent invitations to perform solos at school.
“I never gave up because, even though the teachers doubted her success or how to deal with Dea, I never doubted Dea’s success. That’s why I’ve always been persistent, and I persisted and persisted,” said Arziko, whose favourite piece that her daughter plays is “Spring” from Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Dea is among 14 boys and girls with intellectual disabilities at her school and has become an example for all of the schoolchildren to follow.
She is diligent in her studies and prefers to be independent in everything she does.
“Everybody loves Dea because she’s very talented, she’s very social. She never skips classes,” Arziko said. “Even through the pandemic, she used to ride a bicycle to and from her violin classes.”
Dea now trains three times per week in basketball, and twice per week in both violin and dance.
All this effort goes towards her next big goal—a bigger stage for her performances.
“I would love to be part of the next Special Olympics World Games,” she said. “And I would like to have a bigger stage for dance and play the violin for a larger group of people.”
So, which one of the three—basketball, violin or dance—does she like best?
“Basketball!” Dea exclaims and then goes on to explain with a big smile, “I like it because I think it will make me look taller.”
Indeed, scoring one of those three-pointers she loves so much can have that effect too.