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Gareth hopes his experience will encourage others with a disability to volunteer

A new ‘positive’ and ‘powerful’ project which aims break down the barriers which prevent disabled people from volunteering has already proved to be inspirational.

Gareth Picken volunteered to help out at the recent Swim England Artistic Swimming National Age Group Championships after reading about The Ripple Effect project

Here, Gareth shares his experiences in the hope of encouraging more to give up their spare time to help others.

As someone who was born with a disability, I can understand first-hand the health, both physical and psychological, and social benefits that come with regularly participating in sport.

With increasing awareness and coverage of disability sport, it is becoming more common to see people like myself, regardless of your ability, taking part in sport and physical activities.

However, the same cannot be said for volunteering.

After seeing that Swim England had launched a new project, The Ripple Effect, that is aimed at addressing the barriers for disabled volunteers in aquatics, I was inspired to become a volunteer.

I attended the Artistic Swimming National Age Group Championships taking place at GL1 leisure centre in Gloucester – despite having no prior experience of artistic swimming, let alone the being part of a national championships.

Nevertheless, my aims were to gain greater appreciation for artistic swimming, understanding the different elements to the competition and support, in any way that I could, the running of the event. 

The day began when I arrived at GL1 leisure centre at 8am. Fortunately I am able to drive independently.

Volunteering pack

However, for many people with a disability, they are reliant upon parents/guardians for transportation as public transport is often either very limited, particularly for wheelchair users such as myself, or expensive.

In addition, even if you are able to drive, that does not guarantee there will be enough disabled parking spaces to accommodate more than a few people requiring extra space to exit their cars.

Once parked, I collected my volunteering pack which included a Swim England polo shirt, water bottle, clipboard and lanyard in preparation for the day. 

I changed into my new top while the warm-up was completed. I then began my first and main role of the day supporting the results process during the figure event.

For those who, like me, don’t know what happens in this event, let me explain. 

Everyone in a particular age category is assorted into a specific line and divided into four groups. 

In each group, one by one, a swimmer enters the pool and performs one, predetermined figure which is then judged by five judges, video recorded in case a review is required, before moving on to the next line where they will perform a different figure in front of a new set of judges. 

Ultimately, every swimmer performs four figures, in front of four sets of judges before the event finishes. 

Besides the judges and those in charge of video recording, there are two callers sat either side of the judges, one announcing the number of the swimmer competing at the time, the other reading out the five scores from the judges who would be showing individual score cards. 

Finally, and this is where I came in, there is a data inputter.

Great experience

Each of the four groups had two data inputters, one recording the scores by hand, before working out the total, the other cross checking with a document which was accessed by the main event’s desk for live results. 

Not only were the raw results recorded but a difficulty score taken into account for each of the different figures. This concluded the morning schedule. 

The afternoon’s events started with a showcase by the GB Artistic Swimming duet, which began the pairs competition. The competition required 10 judges, two groups of five either side of the pool. They look for a combination of different elements, including technical merit and execution of the routine. 

At the end of each routine, which lasts for two minutes, the individual scores are then inputted into a live results document (my role within the event) which totals the overall score for the routine. 

Whilst my role was similar to that of the morning, I was able to watch each of the routines and gain a better understanding of different elements of artistic swimming and how these are judged and scored within a competition. 

The competition for the day ended with the group showcase from the GB Artistic Swimming team, before the presentation ceremony for the figure and pairs competitions. 

Overall, the day was a great experience in a discipline which I had no previous involvement. 

As a wheelchair user, there was much that I could get involved in to become an active volunteer within the event and I hope that by sharing my experience as a volunteer, alongside the findings of Swim England’s new Ripple Effect project, others with a disability may consider volunteering in aquatics in future.

To find out more about the Ripple Effect, please click here. 

If you are interested in volunteering with Swim England, find out more information by clicking here.