A new disability swimming academy has been launched in the Vale of Glamorgan to help nurture the next generation of Welsh Paralympians.
The new academy, based at Barry Leisure Centre, will give talented swimmers aged from 11 upwards access to top quality coaching and the chance to become classified to compete in regional and national competitions.
The academy has been set up in partnership by Swim Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Parkwood Community Leisure, and it is open to swimmers from the Vale of Glamorgan as well as those from further afield.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Disability Sport Wales Officer Simon Jones said: "In the London 2012 Paralympics, Welsh athletes won an extraordinary 14 medals, which included two in swimming. However, there weren’t any Welsh Paralympians competing in London 2012 who were from the Vale of Glamorgan and we are hoping to do all that we can to change this in the future. This new competitive swimming academy will help to spot some potential stars and give them the training they need to hopefully reach an elite level."
As the academy is being run as a competitive club rather than a recreational one there are minimum requirements for potential participants. Swimmers need to have either achieved level five of the ‘Learn to Swim’ National Plan for Teaching, or be able to swim 50 metres in a recognised swimming stroke.
Simon added: "There are a number of successful community swimming clubs in South Wales, such as The Barry Beavers in the Vale, and this new academy has been set up to complement those existing clubs. The intention of the new academy isn’t to rival the clubs in any way. Instead, it will provide opportunities for those clubs’ most talented swimmers to make progress into high performance competition."
Rhiannon Henry, one of Wales’ most successful Paralympic swimmers, was the special guest to celebrate the new academy’s launch. Rhiannon, from Bridgend, competed for Team GB in the last three Paralympics and won two bronze medals at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Rhiannon said: "London 2012 did so much to raise awareness of disability sport and it is imperative now that the momentum continues. When I started swimming competitively I was lucky enough to benefit from some great coaches and I think that this new academy is a fantastic initiative to give swimmers the support they need to help them reach the pinnacle of their sport."
Huw Griffiths, Swim Wales’ National Disability Development Manager, said: "The emergence of disability swimming academies in Wales is something that Swim Wales has been working towards for some time. The aim of this academy is more than just getting more people with a disability into swimming, it is about inspiring them to reach the heights that Paralympic sport can offer.
"Thanks to our partnership with the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Parkwood Community Leisure, the Vale Academy is the first of what we hope will be seven academies across Wales and I am excited about what future stars we may unearth."
The Vale Disability Swimming Academy trains at Barry Leisure Centre every Wednesday between 6pm and 7:30pm, with additional training sessions planned. If you are interested in joining the academy please contact Simon Jones on 01446 704728.