International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
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International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

A TOE IN THE WATER Vanuatu’s First Ever Para-Swimming Lessons! A toe in the water” is an expression meaning someone trying out something new – and maybe just a bit scary – for the first time. It’s an apt expression to describe Vanuatu’s first ever para-s

A toe in the water” is an expression meaning someone trying out something new – and maybe just a bit scary – for the first time. It’s an apt expression to describe Vanuatu’s first ever para-swimming lessons held this week by the Vanuatu Aquatics Federation (VAF) at Mele Beach. The new swimmers were drawn from Wan Smol Bag’s Rainbow Theatre group. All of the participants live with an impairment – hearing, poor vision, amputation, dwarfism, Cerebral Palsy, limb loss. It was Vanuatu’s first ever para swimming school.

Swimming is recognised all over the world as one of the best types of exercise. The water supports your weight, cools you down as your muscles work hard and is low impact on joints and the spine. But what if you have an impairment? Perhaps the swimmer is missing a limb or maybe even both legs? Surely you can’t swim?

“I know of a paralympic swimmer competing at the highest levels internationally who does backstroke and he has no arms,” responded Frank to this query. “It’s all about technique and basic skills but of course water safety is very important – and good coaching.”

The recent visit of Paul Bird, President of Oceania and himself an amputee and Paralympic Games multi medal winner, had inspired the VAF to try out a para-swimmers day. Some families were very worried about their children as many had never tried swimming in the sea before. The beginning swimmers had helpers allocated just to make sure the morning went well and that everyone was safe.

“We picked up the 12 participants at Wan Smol Bag in a bus and came out to the Beach. Two of them had never in their lives tried swimming,” explained Frank Vira, VAF’s swimming coach. “First of all we spoke about water safety, good places to swim, the importance of healthy foods and healthy lifestyles and how swimming can really help people living with an impairment with an exercise regime that suits their particular disability.”

The participants lay on the sand out of the water and tried kicking, arm movements, breathing and floating positions. Lots of laughter attracted spectators who watched the lesson with great interest.

Then into the water!

In the water, they put their faces underneath and blew bubbles to practice breathing techniques and gain confidence. Then, with a helper’s support, they tried floating and finally moving through the water kicking and using their arms.

“I was amazed! I lost a leg in a car accident. But I can swim with one leg and my arms. I am just so excited and happy,” exclaimed one beginner swimmer. “In the water I am equal.”

Frank concluded by stating, “Everyone loved it. The only complaint was the session was too short so next Monday the bus for swimmers and helpers will leave Wan Smol Bag at 9.30am to give us more time. Monday’s session was truly just a toe in the water.”

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