Talented youngsters are taking the plunge and bringing home medals as members of Swindon’s first para swimming squad.

Paula Rutherford has been running swimming club the Swindon Dolphins’ free monthly session for children with disabilities for about six years, but a year ago she and lead coach Brian Rutherford decided to set up a para swimming squad. She wanted to give more children with disabilities the opportunity to become competitive para swimmers.

“We had a monthly sessions Called Swim Links at Dorcan, open to any child with a disability, which was free for swimmers,” she said. “Then twelve months ago we set up a pathway for a para squad with Swindon Dolphins.”

Currently around ten children aged between eight and 16 are in the new group. They meet for a 45-minute training session on Saturdays, and the youngsters have a range of physical or learning disabilities. What they share, however, is a love of swimming and the sense of themselves as a team.

“We have so many children making good progress,” Paula said.

The group has the pool to themselves for their training sessions, which can be important for children with autistic spectrum conditions who struggle to cope with the noise and bustle of a busy pool. They have only two swimmers per lane, and plenty of adult support.

“We want to be inclusive and offer an opportunity to join the club,” Paula explained. “We are the only swimming club in Swindon with a para squad, and we are building pathways to be competitive swimmers.

“We already have young members who want to go to the Para Olympics – that’s their goal.

“And the children enjoy it. We have big smiles all round. They enjoy being part of a squad and having friends in the team.”

Liam Drewett, aged twelve, is one keen member of the squad and is already winning medals in competitions. Liam is deaf and has muscle problems, so he must wear special head gear to prevent him getting ear infections. He is also a strong swimmer.

“I’m really good at it,” he says. “I swim four times a week. It helps with fitness. I like front crawl and back stroke.”

His grandparents Myra and Mick Drewett support his swimming.

“He was nine before he started swimming, but over the last three years it has really helped him,” Myra said. “He has one training session at 5.30am before a full day’s school. He really does like it.”

Courtney Roberts aged eleven, from Swindon, moved to the para squad from the Dorcan session.

She said she finds swimming relaxing – but she has also clocked up five medals and three trophies for her swimming, winning trophies for breast stroke, back stroke and free style for her age group and class.

“I’m very proud of her,” said dad Pete Roberts.

Giacomo Fatica, eleven, initially joined the squad to boost his swimming performance in triathlon. He’s an enthusiastic athlete and likes the butterfly stroke. Giacomo is also ambitious to make it as a competitor in the Para Olympics one day.

“I like it – it’s fun,” he said. “I’m good at stamina; I’m better with longer races.”

Sisters Rose and Alice McCormick, aged eleven and eight, are both members of the para squad and recently swam an astonishing number of lengths in the Swimathon. Rose completed 44 lengths in an hour, and Alice did 56.

“It helps me keep fit,” Rose said, who especially likes swimming under water.

Alice started swimming when she was four and has been a member of the para squad for six months.

“I really like swimming,” she said. “I like back stroke and front crawl. I swim three or four times a week.”

Mum Zoe praised the para squad for understanding her daughters’ disability.

“They treat them as individuals,” she said. “It’s great.”

As well as training sessions in the pool, the young athletes can attend specially designed land training with a personal trainer at Kingsdown sports centre.

“Dave Parker runs disabled sessions for us. It’s all gym based and great for fitness,” said Paula. “The sessions meet the children’s needs and they all seem to enjoy it. They take place weekly, and we aim to keep costs to a minimum.”

The para squad travelled to Horfield, Bristol in October, to complete in the Swift Inclusive Gala and last year Swindon Dolphin ran a swimming gala for disabled competitors in which 30 young people took part. They hope to run a second, bigger gala this year with competing teams from Bristol, Gloucestershire and the surrounding area.

Paula and her team are keen to build up the membership of the Swindon Dolphin para squad and are open to new members.

“Get in touch to find out more,” she said. “Come to the Dorcan sessions and we can see how children manage. If possible, swimmers need to be out of armbands and to be able to swim a length.”

For more information about Swindon Dolphin, visit swindondolphin.co.uk. To enquire about the para squad, email Paula at para@swindondolphin.co.uk.