Ian Thwaites, Managing Director of Level Water, a charity that helps teach disabled children to swim, says learning to swim can be a life-changing event.
When I first met Joshua he had just turned eight. He’s a very friendly and smiley kid but quiet and withdrawn. Joshua has severe cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair. Children like Joshua are on a difficult path in life – they cannot access group swimming lessons and are one-quarter as likely to play any sport at all. They’re socially excluded, more likely to be obese, half as likely to get formal qualifications and one-quarter as likely to be employed.
As soon as Joshua got in the water, he changed. He relaxed, his body loosened and he didn’t stop smiling for a full 30 minutes. His teacher put her hand behind his head and as he lay back she asked whether he could kick. He can move one leg a bit, and as soon as he started, she let go. He kicked 10m across the pool unassisted, having never even floated on his own before.
If he wants to, Joshua has every chance of going on to be a fully-funded Paralympian, travelling the world and competing for a living. But if we can just make him safe around water and give him access to social and sporting opportunities with his friends, we will have opened doors that have always been firmly shut to him.
There are tens of thousands of children like Joshua around the country who aren’t being given a fair start in sport. That is why I set up Level Water.
We find these children and give them up to a year of one-to-one swimming lessons. After this they are good enough to join in with mainstream classes, attend school swimming and progress on to competitive clubs. We started just after the Olympics in 2012 and are now working in most counties across the south of England and opening sites throughout the Midlands. In the next twelve months we expect to deliver 5,000 one-to-one lessons across 20 different sites, and introduce hundreds of new swimmers to the sport.
All of this relies on our supporters’ network of swimmers and fundraisers. In 2015 we will attend a number of the best open water swims and triathlons in the country – and swimmers love to know that every penny of their fundraising is going straight towards swimming lessons for a disabled child.
To find out where we’re working and hear about fundraising opportunities and events, please sign up to our newsletter. We will be holding regular prize draws for Speedo and Level Water swim kit for anyone on this list.