By Jackson Starr

Tom Langridge has been a swimming coach for over 20 years. He has coached athletes at all levels and worked with different people in the pool from all walks of life. He’s now taking his experience to a new area in the pool at Carleton University.

Carleton has collaborated with Langridge and former Paralympic gold medalist and world record holder Darda Sales to form a new Intro to Para Swimming program for students and youth. It is the first of its kind for an Ontario university and the goal of the program is simple; set the tone for other universities to develop the same level of support for para athletes.

When Sales approached Langridge in October of last year at a Para Athletic triad event with the idea of running a para swimming course, he jumped on the opportunity.

“She asked me if I would be willing to piggyback onto that and run a swimming (event) at the Brewer pool just across the street from Carleton,” Langridge said. “We had about eight or nine people come out for it and it was really good.”

What followed was a real push to try and create something concrete within the Ottawa area that would allow students and youth with disabilities to come out and get some swimming experience.

“I said to Darda, it would be great if we could just find something we could do once a week where we try to introduce the fundamentals of competitive swimming,” Langridge said.

“It will still be like swim lessons; it’s still learning to swim but approaching it from a more competitive swim angle.”

It took a while to get the ball rolling and to get it off the ground, but when Sales and Langridge reached out to Carleton, the University welcomed the idea with open arms.

“Carleton stepped up unbelievably,” Langridge said. “It was just fantastic.”

For Sales, a big reason for starting the program is the lack of accessibility for para swimmers in the Ottawa area. “Currently in Ottawa there aren’t any para specific swimming opportunities,” she says.

“This is really filling a gap in our system right now because we know in Ottawa there’s quite a few swim clubs. We just need a place and a program where athletes with impairments can come in, build their self-confidence (and) their basic skills so they can more smoothly transition into a more integrated club environment.”

Sales says that self-confidence is key to helping further develop and increase access to para sports. “We need to recognize that there is a difference in the swimming experience for individuals with impairments versus those without impairments. This is just one way we are starting to recognize those differences and the types of support that these athletes need, particularly in the beginning of their swimming journeys.”

Langridge has the same thought process for the new program and says he will try to achieve that form of teaching as the club first starts. “This will be different,” he says. “We could have people with different impairments of different degrees so what’s a challenge for one person might be easier for another. There’s going to be real learning for me on how we will get this working and streamline it so that it’s working for everybody.”

As a Paralympian, Sales says that having a club like this when growing up would have made a large difference.

“There are not a ton of opportunities currently for adapted sports in the university realm…At the university level there needs to be more programming. When I was in university, there wasn’t really anything.”

Sales also says that having access like this will help people in any situation, even if they haven’t had the opportunity to participate beforehand. “Anyone can acquire an impairment at any age,” she says. “By having programs at the university level, we can be impacting the lives of people who are potentially newly injured…there’s all sorts of reasons why people may not have engaged before and university is a great opportunity to do that.”

The first Intro to Para Swimming session is scheduled for this Saturday, March 4 at the Carleton Swimming Pool. Both Langridge and Sales encourage all who are able to join to try out the program.

“Jump in,” Sales says. “Everyone starts someplace, there’s nerves at the beginning for anyone trying something new, but you will meet great people, you’ll have experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise, and you’ll learn to challenge yourself in a whole new way.”

“If you’re interested, give it a try,” Langridge says. “It’s one day a week, come give it a go. It’s just about getting in and finding another form of exercise, another form of movement, another environment to be in. I’d encourage you, just come give it a go.”

Thursday, March 2, 2023 in , ,
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