SWIM IRELAND AND SPECIAL OLYMPICS—TEACHING AQUATICS
My name is Eleanor Murray. I am 23 years old and I have Down Syndrome. I have just graduated after studying for three years in Dunboyne College of Further Education. I have a FETAC Level 4 qualification in Workplace Preparation and a FETAC Level 5 qualification in Sports Management and Coaching both with distinction. I went to mainstream primary school in St. Mary’s, Trim and to mainstream secondary school in Scoil Mhuire, Trim where I got both my Junior Certificate and my Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).
I have been employed in a part-time capacity in the Aura Leisure Centre in Trim for the last four years. My job involves helping the Swim Teachers in Aura to teach children and adults to swim as well as helping at reception, cleaning and doing other jobs at the pool, in the gym and in the office. I am so lucky to have this job.
My sport is swimming and I just love it. I started swimming in Special Olympics way back in 2003 and I have won two gold medals at each of the last three National Games, in Belfast (2006), in Limerick (2010) and in Limerick again (2014) representing Trim Special Olympics Club. I also compete in Down Syndrome (DS) swimming and I have represented Ireland at the World DS Swimming Championships in Albufeira, Portugal (2008), Taipei, Taiwan (2010), Loano, Italy (2012), Morelia, Mexico (2014) and Florence, Italy (2016). I have also represented Ireland at the three European Championships held to date in Coimbra, Portugal (2011), Estarreja, Portugal (2013) and Loano, Italy (2015) and I am currently training hard for the next European Championships to be held in Paris in October this year. I am a multiple medal winner at European level and last year I won the Bronze Medal in the 1,500m Freestyle at the World Championships in Florence becoming the first Irish female swimmer to medal at World Championship level. I am also a registered swimmer with Swim Ireland and I compete regularly in mainstream swimming galas in the National Aquatic Centre representing my club (Kells Swimming Club) where I get awesome support and encouragement. In 2010, I was voted in as the Meath Chronicle/Cusack Hotels Young Meath Sports Personality of the Year.
From the time I first learned to swim I always wanted to be a Swim Teacher. However, as a person with DS it was always going to be difficult to see how I could achieve my ambition and to get official recognition in the job I really want to do.
Earlier this year I heard through Special Olympics and Swim Ireland that the two organisations were going to work together to put on the first ever Swim Ireland Teaching Aquatics Level 1 course especially for those involved in Special Olympics clubs. I got great encouragement from Special Olympics Leinster and from Swim Ireland to apply for a place on the course. I did so and was so thrilled to be accepted on the course.
The course was held over two weekends in April and May 2017 in the Curragh Military swimming pool. It was tough going over the two weekends with long hours and lots of hard work. However, I got lots of help throughout the course from everyone involved. The course finished up on 21 May and I am delighted to be able to say that I passed. I can now go ahead and become a registered and licensed Level 1 Swim Teacher. I cannot tell you what this means to me. I believe I am the first person with DS to get this qualification. It will be a great help in my job and it means that I can now officially help out in my Special Olympics club as a volunteer Swim Teacher working with our Level 2 Teacher. We are also trying to set up a registered Swim Ireland Club specifically for swimmers with DS and I can now help out as a volunteer with that also. More than anything, becoming an accredited Level 1 Swim Teacher is great for my self-esteem. I am really grateful to Aoife in Special Olympics, to Aisling in Swim Ireland (Leinster) as well as to Emma, my Manager in Aura, who encouraged me to apply for the course and who helped me along the way.
Johanna Tilley-Rock and Ann-Marie Walker were the tutors on the course. Both these ladies were so supportive of me in helping prepare the way for me to do the course and in being brilliant Tutors on the course. Without them, I would not have been there and I cannot thank them enough. These are two very special people who do a great job.
The Curragh military authorities were great in making the facility available to us and in providing us with fabulous lunches. The Curragh Military Swimming Club could not have done more for us. Their experienced Teachers/Coaches were there on the pool deck to help us throughout and the children in the club and their parents were so good to come in for extra sessions so that we could have classes to practice with. A special mention is due to Johanna’s daughters Clara and Ava (club members and great swimmers) who acted as swimming guinea pigs to help us learn our job.
A big word of thanks is due also to my fellow students. Aidan, Michael, Mary, Sharon, Emily, Ann, Kelley, Luca and Daria all helped me out because some things were difficult for a person with DS. The best I can say is that I was never made to feel out of place or uncomfortable and I was never stuck for help from my Tutors and my classmates. Of course I will need to look out now because all these newly qualified Swim Teachers will be going back to their own clubs to teach and to train swimmers to try and beat me.
This was a really special opportunity for me. It was great to see this course being run for the first time. I really hope that this will be the start of something big. I hope more courses will be developed to help improve the standards in teaching those with additional needs to learn and to progress as swimmers. I know that with Johanna and Ann-Marie at the helm, and with the support of Special Olympics and Swim Ireland, big and important things can be achieved in this area which will benefit the sport, those with special needs and those who teach/coach them.