We didn’t know if this was even possible.
Can we run an open water swim group – in the sea – for multi class and Special Olympics swimmers?
To tell the truth, I was reluctant to find out – but when Hans from Special Olympics persisted and we ventured into this, we discovered a whole new experience to enjoy. And that was swimming with people who don’t get to explore the deep blue sea, the salty water, the sun and the movement.
Yes the movement all around – waves, chop, windy splashes, currents. I didn’t quite appreciate how that might be the big first impression – and big first hurdle to overcome – for pool swimmers with special needs.
“Why is it moving?”
I’ve got a good answer for that question now. But there were other hurdles. The wetsuits were difficult to put on. There was no actual end to the pool.
Plus there was the feeling of unsteady sand under feet. We expected that might create uncertainty for our autistic participants but the swim buddies were all great supporters and just essential confidence builders. We got to the water!
Now, after two clinics, we seem to have created a bit of a monster. Most of the participants were so happy with the day out at the beach they have been asking when they can do it again
No OW swimming for multi class athletes
Multi class and Special Olympics athletes have, up until now, largely missed out on enjoying open water swimming. Supporting swimmers with special needs is a labour-intensive operation requiring competent swimmers to be buddies, other safety volunteers and the coaches to all work together with the athlete, their carers, coach and club. Insurance, of course, is a consideration and a risk assessment approach is required.
There has been no multi class categories in open water events in Victoria until 2016. And no way for pool squads to train in the open water.
Now some open water events, like the WOW Challenge / VOWC and a few other public participation open water swims in Melbourne recognise and support multi class swimmers. We think eventually every event will need to buy more medals for multi class athletes and think seriously about how they need to support access for all swimmers.
Bringing it all together
Hans and I first talked this idea through with Liz Gosper from Inclusive Sports Training six months before anyone got near the water. We got great support from Special Olympics (thanks Simon!) and the volunteer lifesavers at WSLSC. Nothing would have been possible without the swim buddies from The Mussels and Swimming Victoria backed us up as well. We could not have put this on without all of these organisations chipping in.
The stars aligned for us at Williamstown to bring this project together. Our first two open water clinics were a huge success.
What actually happened
At our November and December 2017 clinics, swimmers from Special Olympics Victoria looked tentatively at the sea from the safety of the Lifesaving Club’s front lawn. Looking at Mum, Dad and the coaches for assurance, these swimmers were introduced to their ‘swim buddies’ from WSLSC’s Ocean Swimming Club “The Mussels.”
The buddies helped swimmers put on some donated wetsuits (thanks Inclusive Sports) and we met on the beach for dryland exercises. We stood in a circle and joked around a bit.
A couple of swimmers found the feeling of the shifting sand under their feet stressful. We hadn’t yet got to the water. I may have been concerned at that point how this was going to turn out.
But the buddies did a great job, sticking close to the swimmers and with our three WSLSC volunteers on rescue boards we leapt into the sea. Well some didn’t quite leap. More of a slow amble.
We practised high elbows and body position in the open water and sighting before breathing. We played touch the toes and had fun drafting and trying to swim straight. By the end of the hour we had swum more than 1.5km in deep water and no one had returned to shore.
For me the enjoyment of the participants and the look of new confidence on faces proved the concept. The icing on cake has been the medals and podium finishes at open water events by participants from our clinics. These are strong pool swimmers who have rarely before ventured into the open water.
The volunteers who helped all had a great time as well, as did Hans and I, so yeah, we’ll be doing it again!
Supported Open water swimming squad is back!
Saturday 11 February 2018 12 Noon – 1pm
Saturday 17 February 2018 12 Noon – 1pm (with Inclusive Sports Training)
Saturday 24 March 2018 12 Noon – 1pm
Contact Jason for more info.