Dea Slattery, who has been heavily involved in disability swimming for years, spoke to Rolling Inspiration recently, helping us understand how disability swimming in South Africa works.
“While disabled swimmers and able bodied swimmers swim together at events in South Africa, they aren’t competing directly as the disabled swimmers' goals are to better their own times.
Swimming at the able bodied meets has done wonders for disability swimming. The able bodied swimmers accept it easily and, very importantly, treat the disabled swimmers as their peers, recognising them as fellow athletes. The public also recognise these swimmers for their ability and talent, not their disability.”
“Being able to compete at all the Swimming SA events has opened doors for disabled swimmers as they are able to compete more often at the highest levels. This is important if South Africa is to produce the level of swimmers it has in precious Paralympics.”
There are three different levels in competitive swimming. Dea explains: “There are the development level, then the intermediate and elite or senior levels. The development level is for swimmers who have shown talent and could become international swimmers. At the intermediate level the swimmer must have a qualifying South African time in his or her event. At senior level we find the likes of the Ryk Neethlings and in this level you need a world championship qualifying time.”
South Africa has been lucky in that it has a number of swimmers at senior level, who are ranked in the world. These include Craig Groenewalt, Tadhag Slattery and of course Natalie du Toit.
“Unfortunately many of our medalled swimmers from Athens 2004 have retired from swimming, such as Scot Young. Competition at the Beijing Paralympics is going to be intense, especially from the US and China, so we need to build a strong winning swim squad now.”
The results from the recent event in Sheffield show that there are a number of talented swimmers who could be gold medalists in 2008. “There is a lot happening in disability swimming in this country. At Mandeville we have 15 black swimmers of which 11 are already registered to compete in able bodied competitions.” However, despite the emerging talent and the paralympic success of South Africa’s swimmers in 2004 as well as the awareness that Natalie du Toit has brought to this sector of disability sport, funding is still lacking.
“Disability Sports SA (DISSA) assisted the swimmers at the Paralympics and there are generous companies out there which assist, but it is not nearly enough, especially when compared to the able bodied swimmers. For example, an elite squad of swimmers was to be formed after the Athens Paralympics, but as to date nothing has transpired.” According to Dea able bodied swimmers live, study and train at the high performance centre in Pretoria. Here swimmers train everyday and have access to gym, medical and other facilities.
“We would like to see some of our swimmers at this centre. For example, we have one young swimmer whose mother is a single mom who would benefit greatly from this kind of assistance.
“Presently Greg Price, the coach at Mandeville personally transports the kids from Hope School to Mandeville. The standards have to be lifted and funding and access to the high performance centre are the only way to do so. We are far behind some of the other countries who have better support including massage therapists and lactose readers that travel with their teams.”