I GRADUATED with a degree in sports science from the Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Hoping to make a difference, it was a dream come true to get the job as Programme Director for Straight2Swimming.
This is designed specifically for young people with scoliosis, a condition causing an unnatural curve of the spine. In its most severe form, children would often be unable to take part in sport. Young people with the condition also often feel isolated and extremely conscious of their bodies. With the motto ‘Swim For All’, the programme sets out to offer children an access to sport where they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have.
We started in Belfast with eight children and a handful of coaches in September, 2014, and if I’m honest, it was just a lot of fun. At that point, I had no idea the journey we would take over the three and a half years, nor or of the plans we would be setting in motion for the future!
So where have we got to? And where do we want to go?
Well… I now have nearly 25 coaches and volunteers across three centres, Belfast, Kildare and Cork. Together the programme has more than 150 children registered. With the dedicated and unfaltering support of American medical company K2M, we hope to set up centres in mainland UK and across the pond in the USA.
Our set-up is to have children, aged five to 18, come to a 45 minute to one-hour session on a weekly basis. We run beginner swim sessions, improver sessions, and swim fit sessions. We also have designed a bespoke rehabilitation programme with input from leading surgeons in the scoliosis field. Thanks to a very flexible structure and wide support network of coaches and volunteers, we do what we can to provide 1-to-1 instruction right through to team waterpolo sessions. The variety, the flexibility, and the open an inclusive nature is what I think makes the programme so successful.
And how are we measuring success?
Well, for me it’s as simple as ‘Do my kids enjoy coming swimming, and are they going to come back next week?’ When the answer is a resounding yes, I know my coaches are doing a great job. The benefits beyond finding a love for a sport have well surpassed our expectations as a coaching team.
We have seen improved recovery times post-surgery, a combination of improved fitness prior to operation, and the rehabilitation post-surgery. We have watched young girls and boys alike grow in acceptance of their condition and realise they truly are not alone. From this has grown wonderful Ireland-wide friendships, and of course, a support network for parents and family.
This summer we are bringing 10 Straight2Swimming kids to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. This is a massive challenge for anyone, but it is specifically challenging for these kids as many of them have had spinal fusion. We have a hard six months of training ahead of us, but it will be worth every minute of training when they are standing on top of the tallest mountain in Africa. What an accomplishment!
We ‘officially’ open our third centre here in Cork in conjunction with the Mardyke Arena on Saturday March 10 from 6.45pm to 8pm. We, myself and the instigators Philip and Edel Convery, are delighted to host K2M. Our ambassador Andrew Bree OLY is joining us, and some of my coaches and wonderful assistant director, Dara Hamill. It’s set to be a great evening, and this will set the scene for more launches across the globe in the very near future!
If anyone has any queries about the programme please contact me on: Eimear Brown Straight2Swimming Programme Director Straight2swimming@swimbelfast.com, telephone 00447476398839
MORE ABOUT STRAIGHT2SWIMMING
Mr Pat Kiely Consultant Spine Surgeon from The National Children’s Hospital said: “I welcome the addition of a third Straight2Swimming programme in Cork to accommodate the growing number of young people eager to take part in this unique initiative. Straight2Swimming is the most positive single action in enhancing scoliosis patients’ capacity, allowing them to be themselves and all that they can be.”
Scoliosis is a condition that affects as many as two in every 1,000 children in Ireland. With many patients facing extensive wait times to receive their corrective surgeries, Straight2Swimming has offered an invaluable service, working to help build body confidence among its swimmers, improve swimming techniques, and boost overall fitness, therefore reducing recovery times for many who have undergone spinal surgery, and acting as a gateway for many young people in returning to sport.
Funded by American specialist spine medical device company K2M, the weekly swimming programme also provides a supportive forum for the families of those who are impacted by the condition as they help their loved ones through the painful condition.
While young swimmers train with professional swimming coaches and meet many other young people, who have also been impacted by the same condition, parents gather each week to consult with experts in the field of scoliosis and treating young people with the condition to compare stories and experiences and offer support for those going through similar journeys. Seewww.swimbelfast.com/straight-to-swimming/ for more.