Stories To Inspire

Thousands of people just like you take to the water every day and enjoy the health and social benefits of swimming.

Use our Pool Finder to track down your local pool and ask them about opportunities for swimmers or non-swimmers with a disabilityParalympians such as Elllie Simmonds, Sascha Kindred, and Steph Slater (above) are all inspiring figures and prove that swimming is a great way to exercise.

But you don’t need to win medals to be successful in swimming. Many men and women with disabilities find learning to swim or returning to swimming a life-changing experience.

Here are two real-life disability swimming stories to help inspire you into the pool.

Ben Foulston

Ben Foulston always loved water, had lessons from six years old, was spotted by a coach at eight and joined Bramcote Swimming Club when he was 10.

He is very competitive by nature but never made it to the A squad at Bramcote.

He showed particular talent in backstroke but his breaststroke kick would always lead to him being disqualified from breaststroke and individual medley races, preventing his progress.

At first, his coaches were nonplussed but after his diagnosis, all became clear.

Ben was diagnosed with very mild cerebral palsy and has a right side weakness which affects breast and fly and causes stiffness in all of his joints.

He had swum at the club for two years and never won a medal but, following his classification, he won medals straight away at National level once the playing field was level.

In 2012, Ben secured four National qualifying times as an S10 swimmer and competed at the British International Disability Swimming Championships - his first international meet - and in the Para-Swimming events at the British Gas ASA National Youth Championships

His short term target is to keep setting PBs in races but Ben is determined he wants to swim at the Paralympics, if not Rio 2016, then Tokyo 2020.

He swims five days a week in the evening and does morning sessions at the weekend. In total, Ben swims up to 16,000 metres every week.

It's a family affair as well with Ben's parents spending so much time at the pool that they decided to become active in the club’s administration.

Ben's dad is membership coordinator and his mum runs the Sunday evening club desk.

Chris Pagan

Chris started swimming as soon as he was old enough to go in a pool, his parents deciding it was a vital skill to learn.

He made swift progress and was swimming with Runnymede Swimming Club training squad before a brain haemorrhage in 2009.

Chris was unable to walk or talk, lost hearing in his right ear and his vision was also affected.

The haemorrhage also severely affected his co-ordination and meant he has had to re-learn many physical processes.

Chris’ physiotherapist knew he loved being in the water so used hydrotherapy as one of his main exercises on the road to recovery.

He gradually learned how to float and walk in the water un-aided, and once the hydrotherapy stopped due to funding, Runnymede offered to give Chris a private lesson once a week with exercises to help him regain his control and movement in the water and swim again.

Chris eventually joined the Swimability club for disability swimmers at Runnymede which encouraged and aided his progress.

He now trains twice a week, plays water polo for Swimability and, having been classified, competes in inter-club and local galas within the Eastern region.

Bill Walters

Bill Walters, 62, nearly stopped exercising altogether after a double leg amputation. He’d been a regular swimmer before his operation and knew he needed to keep active.

A holiday inspired Bill to take up swimming again, with the eventual aim of being able to take a dip in the sea. On his first session he managed two lengths and was ‘absolutely exhausted’.

He persevered, built up his strength and soon mastered front crawl again. Now he is a swim buddy at his local pool.

Having been taught swimming at school Bill was a regular swimmer until he had both legs amputated after a spate of ill-health in 2006.

A life-changing visit to the Isle of Man inspired Bill to return to the water. After seeing a beautiful scene with sea water entering a cove, Bill knew this was a place he would love to swim and vowed to investigate swimming at his local pool when he returned.

Following his operation, he knew he needed alternative ways to keep active and stay fit and swimming was a perfect option for him.

On his first visit to the pool, he wasn’t sure of the set-up so he took his artificial limbs off and put them in a locker in the changing room then crawled to the poolside and rolled in.

He decided that once he surfaced he would just move his arms and see what happened!

It became apparent Bill would need to re-learn how to swim.

“The first time I went along to the pool I only managed a couple of lengths and I was absolutely exhausted,” said Bill.

“But this did not deter me and I gradually built up my lengths and got so much stronger."

Following his initial visit where he crawled to the poolside, Bill tried a host of different ways of accessing the water and concluded he preferred the hoist facility to anything else.

Staff became aware of Bill's needs and offered a wheelchair from the changing rooms to the poolside hoist.

Without any coaching advice, he managed to re-teach himself how to swim during public swim sessions and after 11 months Bill had mastered the front crawl again.

Bill’s overall fitness and breathing improved remarkably through his participation in swimming – he even shed four stone in the process which assisted with his mobility. His stumps also became softer and swimming helped ease the pain from them.

After mastering swimming for the second time, Bill took his involvement to the next step, becoming a ‘swim buddy’ at his local pool in Wirral, helping support new and apprehensive adult swimmers.

“Now I am a swim buddy I hope I can encourage others who may be dubious about swimming to overcome their doubts and take the plunge,” said Bill.

Andrew Warden

Andrew has learning and physical disabilities and has always loved the water.

He has been supported by care home staff to enjoy swimming safely and in 2012 joined them in a team effort to complete the Swimathon.

Andrew Warden, 43, has learning and physical disabilities and has always loved the water. 

Since becoming a resident at Avenues Trust Smock Acre care home in Canterbury, he has been supported by staff to enjoy swimming safely. Some of his carers made up the rest of the Swimathon team of five and provided support for Andrew in the water.

...nowadays having a severe disability such as Andrew is not a barrier to being involved in sport.

Swimming is Andrew’s main hobby and over the past four years has given him enormous benefits.

By building up his physical strength he is now swimming at least twice a week at Kings Mead Swimming Pool in Canterbury and Hartsdown Pool in Margate.

Lara Lill is Head of Health and Wellbeing at the ASA. She says: “What a wonderful achievement this is - one of the great things about swimming is that it’s a fully inclusive activity for everyone to take part in. 

“It’s already the favourite sport of many disabled adults like Andrew because it has amazing benefits with confidence-building and all the health and fitness aspects.”

Sarah Carberry, Acting House Manager at Avenues Smock Acre, said:

"When Andrew finished his lengths I told him he had finished and pointed up to his mum telling him she was watching him, Andrew gave the biggest smile I've ever seen.

“He has difficulty communicating but it was clear the first time he got in the pool that he enjoys swimming."

Stella Warden, Andrew’s mum, is also very pleased with the progress Andrew has made.

She says: "I am very happy and proud that Andrew was able to do the Swimathon. I was in tears as I watched him, it was such an achievement him just being part of it.”