Sophie Etheridge - Adaptive Athlete

"I have always swum but not always been disabled..."

Sophie, a determined and passionate individual, has faced numerous challenges since her cycling accident in 2011. Despite her passion for physical activity, limited opportunities hindered her pursuit of becoming more active herself. Sophie has also encountered barriers while working to support others facing challenges to live more active lifestyles.

That’s when Living Sport first met Sophie, back in 2018. From the very beginning the team were inspired by Sophie and her unwavering strength. It was evident to see the positive influence Sophie could have on others encountering similar adversities.

Sophie’s journey is a testament to unyielding strength, and Living Sport takes immense pride in her remarkable achievements. As she relentlessly breaks down barriers and refuses to quit, we are honored to stand by Sophie’s side, supporting her on her extraordinary journey.

Living Sport worked closely with Sophie to understand her aspirations and the specific requirements. The first steps were to support Sophie in finding accessible and inclusive training sessions locally. The Living Sport team used our sport clubs network to secure Sophie a space at a wheelchair racing club, but also worked to ensure the means were in place for Sophie to be able to travel to and attend these sessions. 

During the last 5 years, Living Sport and Sophie have worked in collaboration to attend Sports Festival in Cambridgeshire and provide information around opportunities for disabled people to be active. 

We were thrilled when Sophie got back in touch earlier this year through our Diverse Workforce Project. Once again, Living Sport worked with Sophie to understand both her needs and goals. Living Sport were able to provide a grant for Sophie to complete her Level 2 Certificate in Teaching Swimming. Since then, Sophie has started working regularly as a swimming teacher for a local Triathlon club and also coach and do the cross over from people improving their technique in the pool to introducing them to open water swimming with The Cambridge Swimming Company. We are currently working closely with Sophie to organise some sessions in open water, specifically for those with disabilities.

Sophie’s journey exemplifies the triumph of determination over adversity, made possible by the unwavering support of Living Sport. As she continues to inspire others with her coaching, we remain committed to breaking down barriers and fostering a more inclusive society for individuals with disabilities.

Sophie shares her story...​

“I have always swum, but I have not always been disabled. It was in 2011 that I was involved in a cycling accident leaving me in constant pain and eventually leading to me needing to use a wheelchair. I struggled with my mental health, and it was suggested that I try and get back into sports as I had always enjoyed being active. I began getting into swimming again in 2016 as I wanted to try getting into Para-Triathlon. However, that didn’t work out and so I focused on open water swimming, which was always my favourite sport anyway!

By the time it got to 2020 I had begun attending regular open water swimming events again and loved it, but, noticed that I was almost always the only person with a visible disability there. Out of the hundreds of participants I knew there must be more than just myself there with a disability, so I set up a Facebook group for open water swimmers with disabilities called “Adaptive and Disabled Open Water Swimmers”. It started with only about 10 people but after being shared into a UK open water group it exploded and we now have more than 1000 members. The group isn’t for just those with disabilities, but for swim buddies of those with disabilities, coaches, event organisers, it is open to anyone that is committed to being inclusive in open water swimming.

In 2021 I swam the length of Lake Windermere 2 Way to raise awareness of open water swimmers with disabilities. In 2022 I completed an English Channel Relay 15 years after my first attempt when I ended up unable to swim. Fast forward to August 2023 and I set the record for the Longest English Channel Swim in 29 hours and 4 minutes! Once again, this swim was not for recognition, but to raise awareness of open water swimmers with disabilities, to fundraise for the Swimming Teacher Associations Starlight campaign, where they are upskilling teachers to become specialist disability swimming teachers and to show people that they should never put limits on themselves

I first contacted Living Sport 2018, I wanted to try and get into para-triathlon (I was previously a triathlete before my accident) and was after some advice and help in getting into the sport. Living Sport helped me to find a local wheelchair racing club and told me where I could go and do a session with a hand-bike. Not only that, but they also helped me to get to the wheelchair racing sessions too. After trying to complete a para-triathlon I realised that logistically it just wasn’t going to work for me and instead decided to focus on open water swimming instead. Over the past few years, I have been in and out of touch with them, attending their sports festivals and even gaining resources from them to use at sports festivals and encourage more people with disabilities into sport.

In April 2023 I discovered Living Sport were running a project to help those with disabilities get into working in the leisure industry and I was fortunate enough to receive a grant to pay for me to do my Level 2 Certificate in Teaching Swimming. Since then I have started working regularly as the swimming teacher for a Triathlon club and also coach and do the cross over from people improving their technique in the pool to introducing them to open water swimming with The Cambridge Swimming Company. I hope, in the future we will be able to organise some sessions in open water, specifically for those with disabilities. I strongly believe that swimming is a life skill and should be available to everyone, disability or not.

My hope is that going forwards I will be able to continue to educate people on accessibility in open water swimming through my blogs and articles in The Outdoor Swimmer Magazine. I will also be able to continue teaching and coaching and in conjunction with Living Sport provide open water sessions for those with disabilities. I am also planning to keep raising awareness and campaigning for swimming to be more accessible by completing marathon and ultra-marathon swims.”

To support Living Sport and individuals like Sophie, please donate now. Your contribution can empower individuals to overcome challenges and pursue their dreams.

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