Learning to swim as an amputee
William’s story came to our attention when his swimming teacher Shannen nominated him as part of our Swimmer of the Year campaign at the end of last year. He went on to win the Swimmer of the year award at his local pool and we asked William and his mum Gemma to share their story. We think you’ll agree it’s truly inspiring.
How did William get into Swimming?
William had baby swim lessons at a few weeks old but we were unable to continue with these when I returned to work. We’ve always enjoyed swimming as a family on holidays and at weekends but William was never confident in water and we weren’t sure how best to bring him on. I’d been thinking about swimming lessons for him when unfortunately he became ill with sepsis, resulting in him having both legs amputated. In 2021, William, 5 years old, was physically recovered enough for us to start looking for lessons again.
Unfortunately, once I explained his disability, many places felt they couldn’t accommodate him or just didn’t come back to me. Places Leisure were brilliant. They made sure they had a teacher who was suitably trained, let us come and have a look at the facility and make sure it could meet his needs. We instantly knew this was the place for him, and our younger daughter started group lessons at the same time!
As parents we’ve always agreed we felt it important our children learn to swim. Primarily for their safety. I also think it’s a great fun way to help keep fit and an activity we can enjoy as a family.
What challenges have you had to overcome with William learning to swim?
Initially the biggest challenge was finding somewhere suitable. Once he started lessons, his biggest barrier was his confidence. He’s been through a lot the last couple of years so can be very shy. His teacher Shannen has been brilliant at building a rapport and gaining his trust.
Physically there are difficulties, it’s new to us all as a family. Do we take his prosthetic legs off poolside or leave them in a locker?! We had a few worries as parents. However, we didn’t need to, Places Leisure are so accessible and accommodating making it really easy for us.
William tell us a bit about your swimming. What do you love about your swimming lessons?
Now I can swim without holding on to mummy or daddy all the time.
What is your favourite activity in lessons?
My favourite is the games we play and dipping my head underwater!
Have you been swimming anywhere else outside of your lessons?
Yes we go swimming lots at the weekend to different places and I love swimming on holiday. We’ve just been to Tenerife on an amputee camp and I could go in the pool and play with the other children.
Your swimming teacher Shannon is really pleased with the progress you’ve made. What thing are you most proud of achieving in swimming so far?
Putting my head under water. And getting swimmer of the year!
And what swimming thing would you really like to be able to learn in the future?
I want to swim under the water!
How did you both feel about William winning Swimmer of the Year?
I was actually with William when I got to call to say he had won. It made me so emotional. He’s had a lot of challenges to overcome the last two years, including learning to walk again. To see the progress he’s made with swimming and how much it’s bought his confidence on, seeing this recognised too, I was bursting with pride. When I told him he couldn’t stop grinning and he just kept saying, “I’m swimmer of the year? I can’t believe it!”
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about William’s swimming journey?
We could have easily let William’s disabilities prevent us from getting lessons. I am so glad we didn’t. We were worried how William would feel being exposed without his legs on, and how he would cope, but all the staff are so friendly and helpful, we had no reason to worry. Shannen makes his lessons fun and enjoyable, he is learning so much and progressing without even realising. He’s gone from being scared in water, hating being splashed, wanting to cling to us, to swimming independently and putting his face into the water, something we tried for years to get him to do!
If you have been inspired by William and Gemma’s story and would like to get involved in swimming lessons, please get in touch.
At Places Leisure, our mission is to create active places and healthy people. And, our goal is to provide a safe, accessible environment for all, irrespective of ability and/or challenges. If there is a class, sport, or skill that you’re interested in but are unsure where to start, just ask. Individual, group or SEND classes available. Options vary by site.