City News

Swimming for special needs

Matilda Thompson, 12, is among the students at Ultimo's Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre. Photo: Chris Peken

Matilda Thompson, 12, loves to swim, particularly at her favourite beach, Clovelly.

“I like to make some waves,” she says. Her favourite style is breaststroke.

Matilda, who has Down syndrome, has taken swimming lessons at the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre for two years. The centre runs a special program called Swimability on Saturdays, catering for about 13 special needs children.

It hopes to expand that to a daily program by collecting funds from the YMCA Swimathon, a national event taking place in 60 pools on March 2, including 29 pools in NSW. The third annual Swimathon will raise money to allow more children with disabilities to participate in customised swimming lessons.

Dean McElroy, assistant manager at the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, said he hopes to raise $15,000 from more than 100 swimmers on the day. Nationwide, the fundraiser is expected to net more than $100,000.

Also participating in the event are Australian Paralympic Swimming Coach Simon Watkins and the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre’s head coach, former Olympian Hamid Mobarrez.

Mr Watkins, whose sister is a disabled swimmer, said it was a hugely important cause.

“This is an area which is constantly neglected and constantly needs more funding,” he told the crowd at the launch last Friday.

Matilda’s mother, Mary, said it’s important for her daughter to learn to swim not just as a lifesaving necessity, but as a social skill.

“It’s a massive self-esteem boost for her and really raises her self-confidence to know that when she comes here with her non-disabled friends, that she’s one of the crowd,” Ms Thompson said.

“Too often people judge Matilda on her ability based on her disability, so it’s nice to get a break from that at the pool. Knowing that she can swim also eliminates the stress of being hyper-vigilant.”

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