I am 15 years old and I live in Cambridge. I attend Parkside School in Cambridge and I have had a disability since being born ten weeks prematurely, I have cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus.
My parents always encouraged me to have a try at different sports, which is hard for me as my balance is not too good and I also become tired very quickly from walking, running is tricky too. It was for this reason that I started swimming as it was an activity I could do at my own pace and actually made me feel great in the water in that I didn’t get so tired as I do when walking. I joined a disabled kids swimming club in Cambridge in 2004 when I was 7 years old.
Some coaches from the City of Cambridge swimming club came and watched one of our sessions, after which they invited a few of us to go along to their club at Parkside Pool in Cambridge to see if we would like to be part of a competitive swimming club. We were given a six-week trial, that was in 2007 and we have been there since!
I absolutely love being part of the swimming club, our coaches work hard to motivate us and give us tips on how to improve our technique and stamina. I have swum at national level for the past three years and this year for the first time I have qualified for two events at an international gala, I am really pleased about that.
Swimming has been really good for me, I don’t have lots of confidence when it comes to physical activities and most team sports make me feel a bit uncomfortable, but swimming is great for my confidence and it keeps me really fit too! It also means that I get out of the house and exercise regularly with friends who understand that sometimes being a teenager with a disability can be tough.
I have attended three galas at National Level, two at Ponds Forge pool in Sheffield and one at University of Nottingham as well as some regional galas too. I have won Gold and Silver Medals in a number of races, as well as continuing to improve my times and introduce new events to my programme.
I continue to train four times per week at both the Abbey and Parkside Pool, I hope to continue reducing my times in all events and keep focused on improving my stamina and core strength. I absolutely love my time spent with my swimming team, it’s been a wonderful opportunity finding a sport that I can do well in as most physical activity means that my disability holds me back, but with swimming I am getting better and better and the benefits are not just in how good it feels to win medals, I can see how the training is helping me to improve my strength and stamina so that’s good too.
Rebecca Lawes, 19, has received support from local charity Papworth Trust. At her first National Championships Rebecca won 4 Gold Medals, Rebecca has trains with City of Cambridge disability squad and with the ASA East Region Disability Squad.
Rebecca was born with cerebral palsy and has moderate learning difficulties. She received a grant from Papworth Trust which will be used to pay club fees and travel and accommodation costs for competitions.
To find out more about Rebecca and have a look at her in training, the Papworth trust has made a short film. Rebecca helped the Papworth Trust welcome the Paralympic Flame to Cambridgeshire.
About The Disability Squad
The Disability Squad was formed in 2007 as an addition to the City of Cambridge Swimming Club (CoCSC). The main reason for starting the squad was the club’s desire to help disabled children achieve goals that they perhaps hadn’t thought attainable.
Working on the premise that once a child achieves a goal, in any sport, the confidence they gain is transferable to other parts of their life, the Club got in contact with Living Sport’s Swimming Development Officer, who was able to assist them get started.
They reached out to Cambridge Disabled Kids Swimming Club, who teach beginners to swim and this link gave a pathway for swimmers with disabilities to progress from learning to swim to become competitive swimmers within Cambridge.
The plan was to create a pathway for disabled swimmers to go from the “learn to swim” to all levels of competitive swimming including international if they had the ability. No disabilities were to be excluded subject to the constraints of Parkside Pool’s facilities. One priority was to ensure the disabled squad trained and raced as part of the club and not seen as a separate entity.
The improvement in fitness and confidence of the swimmers has exceeded expectations. In addition, the club now have adults with disabilities swimming with them that gives the group a much better balance and feel.
One of the biggest problems was getting disabled swimmers to give it a try, mostly due to an understandable lack of confidence amongst the children which lead to an unwillingness to try something new, particularly in a mainstream setting. But, once swimmers joined in, most have seen tremendous benefits to them and continue to go from strength to strength.
Although it has been harder to maintain the momentum than the club first imagined, the swimmers in the squad are excellent ambassadors; they are great at welcoming and reassuring new members as are the parents, who are key to ensuring commitment to swimming.
The squad have a parent rep. on the Club’s Executive Committee, to help support the squad’s development and the squad needs constant promotion to keep numbers growing and stop the membership falling to a number that is not viable.
It is hard work, but it is worth it to see the achievements of the swimmers.
Most swimmers in the Squad are now competing at National level, with some having the opportunity to compete at International level. The squad are still able to maintain bringing swimmers through from learning to swim to a competitive standard, having been able to secure more pool time for a growing squad.
The Club now have over twenty swimmers with disabilities, looked after by two Coaches, one of whom is paid, and they have the responsibility to drive the squad forward.
The Club hopes to keep developing the squad and are looking to have their first swimmer that has come through the squad competing for Great Britain soon.
The biggest problem they foresee for the future is continuing to recruit new swimmers as older ones leave for University etc. and keeping the momentum of the squad going. This will be overcome by the continual promotion of the squads and activities in the local press and to local groups in Cambridge and the surrounding areas to promote the benefits of swimming for people with disabilities.
The Squad is also now an ASA ‘Hub Club’ for disability swimming and have the support of the NGB to keep developing and bringing swimmers through to a competitive standard