Sharon Bridge became involved with SportsAble Aqua Stars in Maidenhead in 2012, when she made enquiries about the activities that might be available to her as a disabled person. SportsAble is a unique sports disability charity, dedicated to the promotion of awareness of disability through sport and recreational activity – and the integration of disabled and able bodied people.
Previously a keen swimmer, diver, teacher and coach, Sharon realised she could become involved with SportsAble in a coaching capacity, by joining the swimming section of the club and taking on the role of Disability Swimming Coach. Sharon’s disability means that she can no longer help out from in the pool, but this doesn’t stop her from teaching and inspiring the swimmers from the poolside, while her team of volunteers help out from in the pool. Sharon’s passion has helped the swimming club to flourish. She helped to open up a new junior section in January 2015 which has attracted younger swimmers and enabled the club to open up more opportunities for their volunteers. Swimmers of different ages and abilities are attracted to the club for a variety of reasons whether it be to improve their technique, stamina, health or for the social aspect the club offers.
What has really helped the club succeed are its enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers, who enable the club to offer a unique and valuable experience for every swimmer. Through helping on the poolside and assistance in the water, the volunteers ensure that swimmers have the opportunity for one to one guidance, helping the swimmers to feel fully supported and confident in the water. The volunteers, mostly between 14 and 18 years of age, are described by Sharon as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘full of ideas’. Each year around four volunteers are offered the opportunity of having their NPLQ funded through the club and since the creation of the junior section, SportsAble are offering to fund two Aquatic Level 1 teachers each year. By thinking outside the box, the club’s incredible team of volunteers help to ensure that a fantastic experience is had by every swimmer.
Although primarily aimed at developing grassroots disability sport, the club has recently affiliated with the ASA, which will help offer a clear pathway for all swimmers, including those hoping to progress beyond this level. The club has provided a pathway from grass root level to an able bodied club for Jeanette Chippington and Damian Ng. Jeanette went on to win medals in five consecutive Paralympic games, starting in Seoul in 1998 and finishing in Athens in 2004. Damian has medalled at Regional and National level having started with SportsAble at the age of 11, joining an able bodied club three years later. He also is a qualified swimming coach.
As the Disabled Swimming Coach for SportsAble, Sharon has challenged her mix of disabled swimmers and volunteers to swim the equivalent of the English Channel. Starting in April, the club aimed in total to swim 22 Miles in 22 Weeks at 22 swimming sessions to raise money for SportsAble. The team of swimmers and volunteers has already smashed the challenge, so has set a new target of 88 miles (four trips across the Channel), which they aim to finish in September.
Sharon commented on this Challenge:
“None of the above could happen without our amazing volunteers, most of whom come from local schools and give up their time to help our disabled swimmers. Our volunteers will be on hand to assist swimmers and encourage them to go further, and to take part in our Grand Finale finish on September 20th.”
Volunteering opportunities are open to all. If you would like to know more, or if you have any concerns about accessibility as a volunteer please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.