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A nation swimming

'Special moment' for Michelle Weltman after being awarded MBE during Pride Month

The King’s Birthday Honours List 2024 was recently published – and members of the aquatics community have been recognised for their services to sport, including Michelle Weltman.

Michelle Weltman’s commitment to supporting aquatic sports made her miss the letter informing her that she had been awarded an MBE.

She was away at a camp with Out To Swim, where she has been coaching for more than 30 years, and almost missed her chance to accept the honour.

“I actually didn’t get the letter as I was away at a training camp,” she said.

“When I came back I didn’t go directly home, I went to my partner’s and when you get the letter you’re supposed to respond to it by a certain time.

“So I actually got a phone call and they said ‘this is the cabinet office, we’re just calling you about your MBE’ and I said ‘what MBE? What are you talking about?’

“So I was a bit in shock because I didn’t quite believe what had really gone on, but I filled in the paperwork and then you have to keep it quiet until the announcement.

“On the day I had gone to bed before it came out and then my phone just started pinging and pinging and I just couldn’t sleep after that.

“I’m very overwhelmed, very proud and it’s special for me because it’s for disability and LGBTQI sport and it’s pride month. I never did what I did for an award, I do it because I feel enriched and passionate about it.

A pioneering inclusive approach

In a career currently spanning more than three decades, her work has pioneered inclusive approaches to aquatics at elite and participation levels for the LGBTQ+ and disability swimming communities.

Michelle’s lasting impact includes being a long term head coach of Out To Swim, forming the London Disability Swim Club and coaching five British Paralympian’s.

It all began when she was working with pupils at a visually impaired school in Hackney where she begun to teach a young girl to swim on the surface rather than under the water.

Michelle was desperate to help this girl continue her journey in the water and after struggling to find clubs that accepted blind swimmers at the time until she stumbled upon Out To Swim.

Out To Swim was the only club at that time willing to let the athletes join its sessions and that young girl was Elaine Barrett, who Michelle went on to coach to three Paralympic Games which ended with SB11 Women’s 100m Breaststroke gold in Athens 2004.

Her success led Out To Swim to invite her to take their coaching post whilst Barrett was one of the many elite athletes Michelle supported throughout their journey.

Michelle’s impact stretched to working with Swim England and London Swimming to help create CPD courses and education to help integrate para swimmers into club programmes and even starting her own club in the London Disability Swim Club.

Last year, she took a step back from the club she created and believes that the being awarded the honour gives her a full circle moment.

She added: “I’ve done it for so many years and I just felt it was time that it needed new blood.

“And I do a lot of things, I work for London Marathon, obviously I’m still with Out To Swim and of course I need family time. It doesn’t mean I won’t go back later on but for now it’s almost like a perfect ending for it.”

‘Lots of great moments’

Michelle continues to coach for Out To Swim where she’s helped them grow and expand across the years.

She was an instrumental part in the club hosting the 2023 IGLA London International LGBTQ+ Masters Aquatics Championships which she regards as one of her highlights within the sport.

“For a competitive swimming club to put on an event for more than 1000 swimmers from all over the world in five aquatic disciplines was pretty impressive.

“That was done purely with a voluntary team and I don’t know many clubs that could do that so that was a really proud moment for me.

“But I’ve had lots of great moments, of course when Elaine won her first Paralympic medal for example but for me it’s what I’ve got back from it that really stands out.

“The joy, seeing people achieve things which they were told they couldn’t. Seeing a parent watch their child swim 25m’s when they were told that they would never be able to do anything with their lives.

“Those are the real highlights when I see things like that.”

Alongside Michelle, Paralympian Rebecca Redfern, coach Dave McNulty, technical official Tony Ward and long-serving Brighton Dolphins Swimming Club’s Audrey Taylor have also been honoured by King Charles.