As I talk about in the book, cricket was one of Jamie’s favourite things to do when he was younger but he also shared his brother’s passion for basketball and showed a great love of the water. In fact, he seemed to like, and be quite able, in many sports. He learned to swim without armbands at around six or seven years old. At first his technique involved swimming just below the surface the whole time, eyes wide open, not coming up for air in between strokes. He just loved being in the water.
In 2013, he had the opportunity to compete in the ‘Disabled Sports Championships’ where he swam in his first ever swimming race. He didn’t win, but he enjoyed himself. During that event he also took part in weightlifting for the first time ever, competed in the table tennis and even tried out the wheelchair relay. As you can see from the picture, he had a great time and we met many inspiring people. Many of the athletes at this meet were already being coached in programmes run by the Special Olympics. I had contacted the Special Olympics around this time to find out if Jamie could join any of the coaching. At the time though all of the training was too far away for it to be a practical option for us.
When we moved to Singapore in 2014 I found out there was a Special Olympics programme there and I signed Jamie up for swim training, basketball and bowling. He enjoyed the bowling once a week and tried out the basketball. We had to wait almost a year but he eventually got a place training on a Saturday morning with the swimming team and has never looked back.
Through Special Olympics Singapore Jamie has been given many great opportunities from competing in the Special Olympics National Games to sponsored long distance swims as well as many social events. Coach JC and all the others who volunteer their time on a Saturday always approach the training with professionalism and expect all the young people to try their best. In fact, the Special Olympics motto of “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” has always rung very true. At the National Games, Jamie won his first ever medal in swimming – a bronze for 50m freestyle. He was delighted, we were very proud. There was also some controversy surrounding the relay team, but that’s a whole other story…
Thanks to the support of The British Club and with the help of our good friend Steve we have also been very fortunate to find a fantastic coach who has been training Jamie, along with his best friend Harry. Alain Chan who runs Total Swimming is a former Paralympics coach and with his help the boys were able to enter their very first big meet. In Melbourne!
Having been in touch with the Down Syndrome Swimming Association I noticed there was a championship coming and thought I would email just to ask for more info. After all, we were closer to Australia than we’d ever be! The organiser, a lady called Libby could not have been more welcoming. Before we knew it, the boys had places as ‘international guests’ and Harry’s mum Sue and I were booking flights to Melbourne. It really was a bit of a whirlwind decision.
The boys both swam in the 25m and 50m freestyle, 25m and 50m breastroke, 25m and 50m butterfly. They both gave it their all and it was a great experience for them.
The competition, which took place over a weekend in September 2017, featured swimmers ranging in age from 12 to 25 and included other international guests from Portugal and New Zealand. Some of those who competed had won medals including at the Special Olympics, National and International Championships – so the boys faced some stiff competition. Having said that, there were young people of varying abilities and each race was run as if they were all competing for gold.
To many cheers, and tears, Harry won gold in his 25m freestyle overall and smashed his personal best. Jamie also beat his personal bests in all of his races.
The spirit of the competition really helped them and they – as well as Sue and I – had a great time. That weekend we saw just what our young people can achieve, and the difference positivity, encouragement, strong coaching and commitment can make.
I only wish I could have taken along that so-called ‘highly-regarded consultant’ I’d seen all those years ago, not to mention those involved in trying to screen out Down syndrome.
Thank you to the fantastic people we met at Down Syndrome Swimming Australia, to Libby and her team of organisers and of course the athletes and new friends who all made us feel so welcome. Here’s to the next time!