In September 1999 I opened a swim club for athletes with a learning disability. It was called Viking Swimmers and it was affiliated to Special Olympics. My mother had just died in April, and I was devastated, so I channelled my sadness into the project of setting up the club.
My Mam and Dad were big into swimming, as it is a great overall exercise. I would not have called myself a swimmer then, I could move in the water but had no technique. Due to a bad experience I had at a ‘so-called swimming lesson’, I would not put my head under the water.
Until……. I witnessed athletes who had a learning disability, swimming under water, not a bother on them, putting me to shame. Then it was time to cop on and learn to swim properly.
I headed up to Tallaght to the late Marian Lane. What a wonderful lady. She had such a great love of swimming and a wicked sense of humour. She taught me how to manage my breathing and in no time, I was swimming in the lane swim on Monday, classes on Tuesday and Friday and water safety on Thursday, oh and Sunday morning in the club. I was wet more often than dry back then but loving the sense of achievement that a forty 43-year-old could learn to swim and be competent at it.
Did you know that you don’t need to be a swimmer to be a swim teacher? I bet you didn’t! Neither did I! Well Assistant teacher is the first certification, and you don’t need to know how to swim only the theory of swimming, lay out the lesson plans and instruct safely. You do need to be a competent swimmer to gain a full teaching certification.
The photo above is the first athlete I taught to swim. We are sitting at the poolside in Sportsco waiting on the medal ceremony. He won the 15 metres assisted swim at the Regional Games, the second leg into World Summer Games being held in Ireland for the first time outside of United States, in June 2003. The ten athletes that qualified for those games, won everything in sight and I cried bucketfuls that weekend. I thought I would burst from the pride I felt, and the sense of reward it was just indescribable, for all the Sunday mornings we got up and went to the training at 9.30-11.30 had paid off.
I’m a great believer in you can do anything you set your mind to do, but the athletes I taught at our club showed me that, with their relentless stamina, determination and will to succeed in the face of adversity just blew me away!
We were a famous club after that, still are to this day. We were the talking point for years! The waiting list was as long as my arm, athletes’ parents wanting their swimmers to join us. My team was incredible, my brother, my nieces, my friends, 22 coaches in total, all the best ever. Most of them young people who got up out of bed every Sunday and came to the pool, to serve our young athletes, helping them to develop their potential. And develop their potential they did! Every one of them taught how to dive, and the four strokes. The sky was the limit and they told us where the sky was!
Exciting times indeed.