Retired Staff Sgt. Jeanne A. Goldy-Sanitate competes in swimming competition of the inaugural Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 18, 2011. Some 200 wounded warriors and disabled veterans from all the military services are competing in paralympic-style athletic events May 16-21. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christopher Griffin)image001Swimming is often one of the most highly recommended physical activities for those with disabilities, as it’s fully inclusive and has many health benefits, so if you can’t swim, maybe it’s a good time to start! For those who have already discovered the joys of being in the water and enjoy swimming regularly, you might want to consider the benefits of joining a club and taking your hobby one step further.

Ideally, people with disabilities should be getting the same opportunities as non-disabled swimmers as part of a mainstream swimming club.  You could also choose to join a disability swimming club that specialises in teaching and training swimmers with disabilities.

It all depends on what your goals are. If you are serious about your swimming and want to compete, then you’ll need to be part of a mainstream club. This will give you the opportunity to compete in disability-specific events, plus you’ll get the support of coaches to guide your development.

Whereas if your aim is to enjoy recreational swimming, a disability swimming club can provide guidance from teachers to build your confidence in the water, teach you to swim and then improve.

Vibrant teaching group with options for all

One swimming club that provides options for all types of swimmers, whether their goal is competitive or recreational, is based in Norwich, Norfolk. The UEA City of Norwich Swimming Club provide a vibrant teaching group for disabled swimmers through their learn to swim arm of the club, Norwich Penguins.  Lessons are taught using the British Gas ASA Learn to Swim Framework and Alpha Step Awards. They then actively integrate swimmers with potential into the mainstream side of the club, to offer a complete swimmer pathway for disability swimmers to compete.

Learning to swim and improving

All of the coaches have experience of teaching and coaching a full range of disabilities and understand the needs of disabled children and work to help them achieve their potential. They offer swimming lessons for all ages, either in integrated or specialist disability sessions.


Lessons fall into three categories:

  1. Supported swimmer – these are lessons building water confidence for those swimmers who require assistance in the water.  The swimmer is assisted in the water by a parent or carer, alongside the teaching staff.

  2. Beginner’s lessons for swimmers who have the ability to support themselves in the water – lessons are aimed to build swimming fundamentals such as water confidence, travelling in the water and early strokes.

  3. Improver classes – aimed at children who have developed the swimming fundamentals and are now implementing some stroke work.


The club provides an excellent service and are seeing an increase in the number of members joining up. The lessons are professionally run and provide a specialised programme for disabled children delivered by caring and committed teachers.  Each child is treated individually and parents and carers are encouraged to be part of their child’s success.

They say there are very few programmes, if any, like this anywhere else in Norfolk which is proved by the great distances some parents and carers travel to the sessions.

For swimmers who wish to join the programme, the club will work to find the right session within one of the 27 different sessions that operate throughout the week in 10 venues across Norwich.

Progressing to competition

The club is proactive in identifying talented young athletes, currently with six disability swimmers within the main squads of UEA City of Norwich SC. Many have moved into the competitive environment by progressing through the club internal pathways. The club tracks the progress of swimmers in the programme to ensure that they are exposed to competitive swimming when necessary.

In all cases swimmers are integrated within the programme with individual plans to suit their needs for competitive swimming. All of the squad coaches have experience of working with a variety of disabilities and are adaptable to all kinds of needs. The programme gives equal opportunities for both disabled and able bodied athletes alike.

The club works closely with the ASA, the national governing body for swimming in England, as one of their specialist disability Hub Clubs, offering support and guidance to disabled swimmers. Hub Clubs are situated at local swimming clubs to provide an assessment opportunity for any swimmer with a disability.


Swimming to Success

A swimmer who benefited from the support of the club in Norwich to achieve their ultimate dream of Paralympic gold-medal success was Jessica-Jane Applegate.  Jessica, who has a learning disability won the women’s 200m freestyle in the S14 category at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and more recently won medals at the IPC Swimming World Championships.  Head coach Alex Pinniger was recently inducted into the Sports Coach UK Hall of Fame based on his work with Jessica, and has also won the Active Norfolk Coach of the Year.  Jessica’s mum Dawn said of the support received by the club,

“You all accepted her for who she is, supported her and helped to make her dreams possible.  To achieve anything you MUST work together to support each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that is exactly what you have done. As a team you should be very proud of yourselves and I am sure if you continue forward united you will have very successful futures.”


Katie Nesbitt is a National Age Squad swimmer coached by Karen Pinniger.  Mum Julie said,

“We decided to move Katie full time to Norwich Swimming Club after she joined the National age squad. Katie found the club to be very encouraging and supportive, and extremely friendly. There have been some challenges for Katie as she is constantly pushed to improve her techniques and stamina. Katie’s swimming has improved massively along with her confidence.

“As Katie’s mum, seeing your child smile and feel good about herself, and fitting in with the other swimmers is all the boost that is needed for the early starts and late evenings. Katie has learnt that with determination and effort she can achieve as well as the other children. This will help Katie throughout life not just as a child in the pool. Katie’s coach is amazing, she has done so much more for Katie than helping her to swim, Katie is proud of herself and proud to be a member of Norwich Swimming Club.”

Katie herself added, “Swimming is fun, and I’m less nervous than I used to be. I look forward to training, I am a lot happier here and want to swim with Karen forever.”

For more information about UEA City of Norwich Swimming Club visit or

Choosing the right club for you

  • ASA Hub Clubs

If you’re not sure if you want to go straight to a mainstream swimming club just yet, or want to find out first if you have potential talent, there is a network of Hub Clubs, situated within local swimming clubs. These clubs provide an assessment opportunity for any swimmer with a disability. During the initial session, swimmers will be asked to complete basic swim skills and assessment tasks to determine their ability level. After the initial assessment, swimmers are directed to the appropriate swimming provision best suited to them.

Just visit and navigate to Talent Identification in England to find out the details of your nearest Hub Club.

  • Mainstream Swimming Clubs/Disability Swimming Clubs

Go to our Pool Finder and check out your local pools. Clubs running from the pool can be found with the pool details. You’ll find out the disciplines they offer and in ‘groups’ whether they offer opportunities for swimmers with disabilities.

Alternatively try contacting your local ASA regional office who will have details of disability swimming opportunities in your local area, visit

Identifying future talent

Did you know that British Swimming won an amazing 55 medals at the 2013 IPC Swimming World Championships in Montreal? If this has inspired you, why not take the first steps to your own competitive success in the future.

British Swimming is running talent identification sessions with events taking place in Plymouth, Lancaster and Hereford on Saturday 2nd November 2013. To be eligible you need to be able to swim at least 25 metres and be keen to take part in competitive disability swimming.  You should be in one of the disability groups listed below also be new to disability swimming, i.e. not been through a talent assessment session previously or been classified.

To find out more and to book your place (by 18th October) just visit .

Attendance criteria:

  • Physical: Cerebral Palsy, Amputee, Spinal injuries, Dwarfism, Polio, Spina bifida, Multiple sclerosis, Arthrogryposis (Please note this list is not exhaustive but provides a guide)

  • Visual impairment

  • Intellectual: IQ of below 75