“I have always been a competent swimmer and briefly swam for my school team. Some years later I became aware that I was not able to float well due to my athletic physique. I always had difficulty and I also lacked the ability to tread water effectively. At 19, I started my professional career in the UK Armed Forces where I joined the Royal Navy as a submariner and earned my ‘dolphins’, a mark of submariner competency. However, even during the Naval swimming test I noticed how others found treading water and floating easier than me; I struggled to maintain a back float even for just two minutes, which could be crucial for survival if suddenly immersed in cold water.
“In the conduct of my submariner duties I experienced some extreme occupational and environmental conditions, but I also swam in the calm open ocean where it should have been easy for me to float due to the greater density of seawater. But again I struggled to maintain a back float in the water where some of my crew mates could. These experiences prompted me to consider why. I now understand this was due to my greater body density, which may depend on factors such as lung volume and the ratio of body fat to muscle and bone in the body.
Tom stayed with the Navy for nearly five years, and at 24 went on to complete a degree in Sport Science at the University of Huddersfield. This was followed by a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology at Liverpool John Moore University, where he studied the impact of the environment on performance. He started his PhD on the science of human flotation in water this year.
“My personal experience of floating during my naval career has inspired me to undertake my PhD, looking at some of the factors that impact people’s ability to float, which might contribute to drowning. Every year 400 people accidentally drown in the UK and WHO estimates nearly a quarter of a million people drown worldwide, many of whom are young or older children, male, and from low- or middle-income countries. Researching these factors could feed into water safety advice and education and contribute to drowning prevention. I am passionate about water safety and want to help all people swim safe and survive, both through my research and in a practical way. It was this commitment that led me to undertake my swimming teacher qualifications.
“As part of the Institute of Swimming’s training academy with Trafford Leisure, I completed my SEQ Level 1 Swimming Assistant (Teaching) Qualification and I hope to undertake my Level 2 this year. Trafford Leisure has been fantastic, and I am already working, assisting with the Alpha Swimming Lessons for Trafford Leisure at Stretford Leisure centre.”
Trafford Leisure’s Alpha swimming lessons have been designed for children and young people with learning difficulties, often with autism. Tom says:
“I thoroughly enjoying working with the children. The classes are specialist, with no more than four in a session, allowing me and the swimming teacher to deliver very supportive learning. It’s fantastic to see the pupils grow in confidence and to give them lifesaving skills and, importantly, the same opportunities to become swim safe.
“I’m lucky my PHD is funded, but the extra money I earn from teaching is a helpful bonus. I currently work as a swimming teaching assistant for six hours a week, mainly on a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning. The work is incredibly rewarding and balances perfectly with my studies. I have really enjoyed doing my research and my swim teaching together – my swim teaching is helping to generate ideas for my research and my research has helped me better understand how to help people – a perfect balance! I am now looking forward to qualifying at level 2 this year so I can lead my own classes and support Trafford Leisure’s swim provision.”
Find out how to become a swimming teacher.