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I visit schools a lot. A lot. I love visiting schools and interacting with the genuine curiosity and open-mindedness of the children - whether they be 5 or 16. However, there are some common questions that I get asked about how I swim, what is Paralympic Swimming, how is Paralympic Swimming fair, etc. So I am going to start a series of FAQ posts that look at commonly asked questions, not just about swimming and disability, but life and disability, relationships and disability, school and disability, careers and disability, you know, all the things that people (not just children) are generally interested about.
So, my first FAQ post is about Swimming and Disability . . .
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Question: How do you swim?
Answer: Just like anyone else really. I may be missing an arm and a leg, but that has never stopped me from being a water baby, and like many able-bodied people I just took to the water easily. I guess the main reason that I can swim is that floating has always come easily to me - and when you can float well you can learn how to swim well.
Question: Okay . . . well how come you don't swim round and round in circles?
Answer: Probably THE most common question I get asked about my swimming . . . and I really have no scientific answer to it, I just don't. In fact, at an Australian team camp down in Canberra one year, we were being filmed underwater, so the coaches could look at the efficiency of our strokes, and I was told I have one of the most able-bodied style strokes for a disabled swimmer!! Hence, so going round and round in circles . . . go figure!!
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Question: Do you swim with your prosthetic leg on?
Answer: Ahhh, noooo, in fact I have an irrational fear that if I did wear my leg in the pool I would sink rather quickly to the bottom (my prosthetic does weigh a few kilos, plus it has metal components . . . not very floatable).
Question: How is the Paralympic Swimming races fair? I just saw you swim against people with two arms and two legs??
Answer: There is a classification system in place that allows for athletes to compete as fairly as possible. This classification system is something that every athlete must go through to be allowed to compete at the Paralympics; each classification system is different for each sport. In swimming the classification system runs thus - S1-S10 is physical disability, S11-S13 is vision impairment, and S14 for intellectual disability. When you are classified you go through a series of measurements and tests by Doctors, physio's and specialists. These measurements and tests include looking at limb lengths, strength and flexibility, as well as looking at how you swim. You are then assessed against a criteria that gives you points. These points are then added together to give you an estimate of class. Your classification can change if there is protest, but this is rare. My classification was S6, which meant that I raced against other S6's, which is why there could be such a variation in disability for the classification - during assessment we were all assessed as having similar swimming abilities, despite different disabilities.
Question: How come some people started in the water and others, like you, could dive in?
Answer: Actually I used to start in the water!! When I first started competing I would start all my races in the water . . . and then when I was about 12, my best friend taught me how to dive in in my pool at home - and I never looked back. Because I do have one leg that is strong and balanced, I can use it to propel myself off the blocks, just as an able-bodied person does. For others, that I used to race against, they would either be paraplegics, or simply not have the strength in their legs to hold a dive position for the required time, hence, that would start in the water.
Question: Can you do all the strokes?
Answer: Nope, not at all. Like most athletes I have my strengths and weaknesses in my sport, and as any elite athlete does, I focused on my strengths. My strong strokes were - Front Crawl, Backstroke, and Butterfly. My one HUGE weakness? Breaststroke! I could not do breaststroke to save my life, though I had three coaches try and teach me. It was just I couldn't seem to get the technique right for the legs, and therefore my timing was always out of sync, and it just didn't pull together as effortlessly as all the other strokes did for me . . . the ramifications? Meant I could never be a medley swimmer :-(
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Question: Do you use your right arm when swimming? Or do you just kinda drag it along?
Answer: I definitely use my right arm and it definitely has an impact on the strength of my swimming. When swimming my right arm is used just like your right arm is used, I swing it round to catch and push the water. Using my right arm definitely contributes to propelling myself, as well as counterbalancing for my left side.
Question: Do you kick with both legs?
Answer: Nup! Unlike the way I use my right arm, I tend to just let me smaller right leg drag through the water and my left leg does all the kicking.
Question: Can you do tumble-turns?
Answer: Why yes I can . . . quite well in fact. I love to do tumbles through the water, for racing as well as for fun, can you do tumbles in water? You really should give it a go!!
Question: How many times a week did you train? As much as the Olympians?
Answer: Oo gosh, I always astound the students when I tell them the effort that goes into becoming an elite athlete. My training regime looked like this -
Swimming: Monday morning for 2 1/2 hrs and Monday evening for 2 hrs
Tuesday morning for 2 1/2 hrs and Tuesday evening for 2 hrs
Wednesday morning for 2 1/2 hrs and Wednesday evening off
Thursday morning for 2 1/2 hrs and Thursday evening for 2 hrs
Friday morning for 2 1/2 hours and Friday evening would either be 2 hrs of training or club competition
Saturday morning for 2 1/2 - 3 hrs and Saturday evening off
Sunday was a rest day.
Then, in-between all of this would be gym, massage, rest, etc. My whole world was focused on my goal of the Paralympics, I literally gave up any social life, holidays, study, etc to pore all my energy into my dream - something I still tend to do now, though with an awareness for more balance . . . The things is, all the sacrifice was completely worth it, so yes, training was as tough and as dedicated as the Olympians, cause, you know, Olympians/Paralympians = same thing.
Whew, there are a kazillion other questions that I get, but that would mean this blog post would probably go for days . . . the ones that I have asked and answered here are the most common . . . BUT, do you have a question about swimming and disability YOU would like answered? If so, don't be afraid, pop in a comment below and I will answer to the best of my ability . . .