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Fiona’s story: swimming helped me beat cancer

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After undergoing a mastectomy, cancer survivor Fiona Stevenson gave up on the idea of ever going swimming again. However, after discovering Everyday Swim she started to rebuild her confidence, and in November 2009 entered her first swimming competition.

Since discovering a benign breast tumour 18 years ago, former legal secretary Fiona Stevenson has found herself in a 13-operation battle against ill-health.

Hip dyplasia has left her with an almost constant need to use a wheelchair. But it was the need for a mastectomy on her left breast in April 2007 that led to Shropshire-based Fiona falling to her lowest ebb.

The operation left her with virtually no movement in her left arm and she was unable to see how she would ever regain any quality of life. “I had lost all my self-confidence,” she says.

She continues: “When you have been active and your life changes it’s difficult to accept and adjust. I just wanted to be normal and go back to work but I was struggling to accept what I could and could not do.”

During this painful period she decided she wanted to return to swimming. She used to go at weekends and before starting her job as a legal secretary. “I thought it would bring some normality back to my life,” she says.

She ordered her mastectomy swimming costume - an emotional process in itself, says Fiona - and plucked up the courage to go out swimming again in public. She phoned her local pool in Telford, but the pool was closed.

“Phoning was a huge step for me and I could have been put off but I was determined to try again,” she said. And she did. However, when she finally went swimming it left her with mixed emotions.

The pool offered her, and then fiancé and now husband Steve, every support, with a private changing room and swimming aids to use. But the experience left her with a sense of what she had lost.

“It made me realise my dream was to go swimming everyday. I wanted to do things independently of Steve. He has enough to cope with looking after me each day before going to work, as well as after work, and the financial implications of my illness,” she says.

The staff volunteered to help Fiona change into her costume but health and safety and public liability issues meant they couldn’t. This acted as another blow: “I nearly gave up on the whole idea after this,” she says.

Being a fighter she carried on. One day she was looking through the local council’s website and came across Everyday Swim a national project targeted at improving accessibility to swimming.

She emailed the then co-ordinator for her area, Matt Shields, outlining her problems, and from that point her life changed. “I am so glad I contacted Matt that day. It made such a difference and gave me a new hope,” she says.

Matt secured the help she needed. He also gave her the names of other organisations carrying out assessments for social care and new wheelchairs. And Fiona’s not the only person to benefit from the email to Matt.

In February 2009, a ‘buddy system’ started across all Telford and Wrekin pools. Those in the same situation as Fiona can now access immediate help for pool access. As a sign of her hard work, Fiona was nominated the first buddy.

Forward to November 2009 and the Rotary Disabled Sports Team Championships had a new entrant for the 100metres. It is her first ever competition. It is Fiona.

“I was entered as part of the Staffordshire and Shropshire triathlon team. I was tired after my effort but I did it in… wait for it…3.27minutes. I usually do a length a minute in normal swimming conditions,” she says.

From nearly giving up hope to entering an actual competition, Fiona is a living example of how swimming can enrich lives. If you are affected by some of the issues in Fiona’s story, then click here to read more about Everyday Swim.

And keep up with Fiona’s progress by accessing her blog here.

Go Swimming has everything you need to know about swimming. If you are a parent, a non swimmer or just want to improve your technique this is the section for you.

In British Swimming you will find information about the world of high performance sport, including the disciplines of Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming, Water Polo and Para-Swimming.

The ASA is the governing body for the sport in England. In this section you will find all you need to know about joining a club or competing in England and becoming a swimming teacher or coach.

The IoS delivers the ASA’s courses and is a member organisation. Whether you are a teacher, coach, employer or club you will find everything you need to know about qualifications or educating your workforce.

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