For the third year in a row, The Tadcaster Stingrays Swim team recently attended The Annual Special Olympics: Yorkshire & Humberside Regional Swimming Gala at Harrogate Hydro Swimming Pool.
Five members of the team, coached and managed by nineteen-year-old Jemima Browning, competed in the gala on Saturday 9th November.
All swimmers who attend the annual gala have an intellectual disability, as this is a requirement for The Special Olympics competitions. The Stingrays’ third successful entry in the competition was made possible by Jemima’s ever dedicated efforts to raise funds.
At the end of the 10 events they competed in, The Stingrays came home with new personal best times, two gold medals, three silver medals and three bronze medals. Jemima was immensely proud of the team’s achievements, but told us how it was the Stingrays’ morale and support that impressed her the most.
“Stingrays’ screams and shouts of support could be heard all around the pool.
“I was so proud of the swimmers’ achievements but mostly I was proud of how well they supported one another. You could really see the team spirit they all shared and how much they relished being part of a team. They greeted the other teams warmly despite being from different places, and their overall team spirit was felt by all.
“This is the first step in breaking down barriers for those with disabilities – we are changing perceptions.”
Jemima’s passion for coaching the swim team grew from a place close to home. Her brother Will has Down’s Syndrome and as he grew older, Jemima and her family realised there was a huge lack of opportunity for young people with disabilities. Seeing the barriers in front of Will, she was inspired to create more opportunities for young people like him.
“He is my best friend. He inspires me every single day. He never lets his disability affect the way he lives. He never complains or uses it as an excuse not to achieve. He is aspirational and works hard to reach his targets. I decided if the world was not going to create opportunities for people like my brother it was down to me to create a change. It is just a case of creating the right environment by making reasonable adjustments to allow people with disabilities to achieve, for they can achieve anything they set their mind to.
“They all belong to a group where their disability is not focused on but their ability is developed and they are pushed to achieve their aspirations. This is an unusual experience for individuals with disabilities.”
The future holds many exciting prospects for the team, with The Special Olympics National Games being held in 2021. Although they may be young at the moment, Jemima plans to have a team of her swimmers competing in the games to a high level. It is also expected that more of the swimmers will begin training with the mainstream squad when they are ready.
Jemima’s training over the years has led her to become an official Level 2 Swim Teacher and Level 1 Coach. She has not only developed essential life and career skills but become a valuable part of the community. She humbly told us of what coaching has taught her.
“I have met some incredible young people. I have learnt so much from them, I admire their ability of not being afraid to be different and to smash through barriers and show people what they are capable of.”