Sport is the key to valuable learning, yet, it seems completely out of reach for so many with disabilities.
We personally made it our mission, as a family, to get our kids in to sport, mainly because it keeps them alive. Regular, high intense exercise is actually the most effective treatment for cystic fibrosis, so of course it will be our mission. But actually it has so many other benefits, aside from the obvious physical ones, which are vital to a happy and healthy life.
Here’s just a few of those benefits, a sense of belonging, inclusion, self worth, self belief, friendship, resilience, respect, discipline, determination, I could go on and on.
But this has come at a huge cost and one that has not been an easy decision.
Sport was not easy for Aiden and as we discovered early on, team games were a big no when he was a youngster.
But Aiden found swimming, which itself is a solitary sport and he, eventually, was lucky enough to find an amazing swim coach who understood and accepted him.
For those who aren’t academic, sport can be their saviour, my motto has always been, channel what you love and you will become an expert in your field.
So why aren’t most families following my motto?
Simple, because it’s too bloody expensive!
Let me give you an example:
We have just taken Aiden to a National ParaOlympics Swimming Gala. All national galas are held in Manchester or Sheffeild. So, for starters, unless you happen to live there, you will have to travel.
Many disabled people won’t be able to drive, so are reliant on a carer to take them. Many may also have personal care needs too.
Galas are often a two day event so two nights accommodation is needed, for a minimum of two people.
Equally, a babysitter may be required for any siblings left at home.
Costs include petrol to get there and back. We live in Cornwall, so for us it was 600 miles worth of petrol. Oh, and not forgetting the two days car parking tickets.
Equipment, you wouldn’t think much was needed for swimming, which I guess is true, but they capitalise on this and whack up the price on swim wear, and only allow specific ‘quality assured’ swimmers at the ripe old price of £200 plus.
Aiden also needs prescription goggles which are £200.
You then have to pay for each individual race entry which is anywhere between £12-24. Aiden did three.
Then, get this, you have to pay to watch your own child race, £18 each person, so £36 for myself and Simon, Aiden’s dad. Unreal!
And if that’s wasn’t enough you also have to pay £2:50 for a Brochure, plus £3 for the heat sheets, so you know when your child is racing. Can you imagine if I missed it! Bearing in mind, each race only lasts for a maximum of 2 minutes!
So, it’s a whopping £500 plus total for less than 6 minutes in the pool.
Am I selling it? No, I’m sure I’m not, but Aiden absolutely loves being a part of the swimming world. It gives him a sense of purpose, a sense of pride, conversations which last months, motivation and most of all memories.
But who can afford this level of participation?
Not many! In fact, yet again, Aiden was the only person, with a learning disability, from Cornwall. There were actually only 19 young people over the age of 18 years old with a learning disability out of the whole country!
That’s 19 people out of a possible 1.5 million! Yes 1.5 MILLION people in the UK have learning disabilities.
Now, I know swimming’s is not everyone’s cup of tea, but 19, really?
Sadly, I’m not surprised, because even if the galas were more accessible, there is still a massive gap across the country in accessible swimming clubs.
The Special Olympics and MENCAP do some good work in the sports industry to combat this, but, it’s far from sorted.
Local clubs often have zero funds for the running costs and sadly in many areas, because of this, they simple don’t exist, Cornwall included. And that’s not just for swimming, that’s all sport! Cycling, triathlon, surfing, rugby, canoeing, I could go on – there are no clubs for so many sports.
Potential, talent and aspirations are definitely being missed and so many people, young and old are missing out on these opportunities.
They are not only missing out on the chance of success but on the vital learning, emotionally, socially, physically and mentally that sport brings.
Aiden is passionate about changing this and has taken it upon himself to learn how to become an assistant swim coach and plans to set up his own club here in Cornwall for swimmers who want to compete. And maybe, once he achieved that, he’ll look at some of the other sports that bring him so much joy to share with others.
Just to reiterate my motto – channel what you love! Aiden is not the best swimmer, but he has become a great swimmer! Although, more importantly, he loves being in the water, he is proud to be part of a club and loves the talk that competitive galas and competitions bring – even when he doesn’t win.
Without sport Aiden would be lonely, isolated and unhealthy, and he definitely wouldn’t be the amazing young man he is today!
Click here for Aiden’s go fund me page for his New Swim Club. https://www.gofundme.com/f/learning-disabilities-competitive-swim-club?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&rcid=96696fb4782a408db86d0c35e8fd9976