Taking swimming lessons is beneficial for children, even if they don’t turn out to be record-breaking athletes later on. Many of the best swimmers start out at the kids’ pool at a very young age. They are the lucky few that found what they wanted to do with their lives when it has barely started.
Cerys McCrindle‘s story started in a very similar way. She was only 3 months old when her toes were first dipped in the water as her parents took her swimming. Her mom, Karen smiled at her daughter’s innocent giggles as she started moving her limbs in unison. Just like that, a tiny athlete was created at the local parent and child swimming class.
‘I started swimming competitively at 11 years old’, Cerys remembers. ‘I went to my first competition in Southampton – the Down Syndrome European Open. I was disqualified for going too fast, but from there I realised I loved competing and meeting new friends.’
1 in 1000 babies in the UK are born with Down syndrome and Cerys is one of them. People with this condition have a range of abilities and their own interests, personalities and individualities. Cerys found her calling in the swimming pool and the dance floor – and very successfully.
In 2019, she was part of the Great Britain Down Syndrome Swim Team in Sardinia and broke the European record for 50m x 4 freestyle women’s relay, winning her team the gold medal. The exhilarating feeling of victory mixed with pride that made her chest want to burst made this day an unforgettable memory.
The same year she received the ‘Inspiration in Sport’ Award at the Scottish Women in Sport Awards for her hard work and influence on the sports community. Cerys mentions, humbly, that she is currently one of the top female swimmers in Britain with Down syndrome. Yes, her incredible results come with well-deserved and justified bragging rights.
‘Swimming has been a lifeline for me. Especially during the current times. Having a community of support both from my local club and from the DS GB team gave me a purpose to take part in online training sessions as well as fun life skill sessions too. Swimming is a big part of my life in training, travelling and socially.’
Outside the pool, Cerys also found her rhythm and is a qualified Freestyle Dance Teacher with the British Association of Teachers of Dancing and loves teaching in her mother’s dance school. She has also recently qualified as a Zumba teacher which opens up new opportunities. The joy of an active lifestyle radiates off her in a uniquely beautiful way.
But despite what the glimmering accomplishments tell you, athletes with learning disabilities face countless challenges in their fight towards equality.
‘As an athlete with learning disabilities, I am sure I have the same hopes and goals as any other athletes. I just need a little longer time to achieve these and as many events as possible available for me to compete in,’ she explains.
‘In my experience swimmers with learning disabilities are not receiving the same amount of sessions as mainstream swimmers, whether they can cope with them or not. As a swimmer with Down Syndrome, entering the para-pathway is very difficult.’
This is because the Paralympics categorises competitors according to their impairment, according to the International Paralympic Committee.
People with Down syndrome are competing in category S14, along with anyone with Intellectual Impairment. This is defined as ‘a restriction in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour in which affects conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills required for everyday life’.
But since Down syndrome is a mix of intellectual and physical disabilities, people with this unique condition face additional hurdles at competitions. Both internationally and in the UK, athletes have spoken up about creating a separate category, specifically for people with Down syndrome.
‘I hope this will change in the future, as I would love a fair chance to compete in the Paralympics. If you think about Para events, there are not many Down syndrome athletes featured. I hope that I can help raise awareness of the above and help change things for swimmers of the future.,’ Cerys adds.
Regardless of what life throws at her, Cerys’ positive attitude and earth-shattering motivation never waver. Her long-term goals are competing in the Paralympics and becoming a swimming teacher and her message is that whatever your goals may be, you too can reach them.
‘You will have to work hard,’ she smiles, ‘listen to your coaches and maybe have to miss out on things that you like to do from time to time. Keeping fit and healthy and having a good diet will be worth it and can be done.’