Ontario's 2008 Paralympians
International Paralympic Committee Website
Requirements for Classification
- 11 years old
- been with a competitive club for at least 1 year
- be able to swim a legal 100IM
Swimming Canada Quadrennial Plan - 2009-2012
Swimming, and sport in general, for persons with a disability was borne out of World War II.
The Stoke-Mandeville Games in Great Britain were first held in 1948, providing sporting opportunities for WWII veterans with spinal cord and other permanent injuries. Athletes from the Netherlands participated in the 1952 Games and slowly the movement grew, with the disability sport landscape improving dramatically through the 1960’s and ‘70’s. In 1976 Toronto played host to the first “merged” Games, where athletes from various disability groups competed together in a multi-sport event.
The term “Paralympic”, meaning “parallel to the Olympics”, was adopted and soon after the International Paralympic Committee was established as the world governing body for athletes with a disability.
Today the Paralympics is the world’s 2nd largest sporting event behind only the Olympic Games, with over 4000 athletes from 150 countries in 22 different sports competing in Beijing in 2008.
Starting in 1989 Swim Ontario, together with Sport for Disabled Ontario (now ParaSport Ontario),
worked to provide opportunities for children with disabilities to become part of competitive swim clubs across the province. In 1997 a “letter of understanding” was signed between Swim Ontario and Sport for Disabled Ontario whereby Swimmers with a Disability (SWAD) officially came under the jurisdiction of Swim Ontario, with all program design and delivery the responsibility of the provincial sport organization.
Since 1994 Swimming Natation Canada has been the National Sport Organization (NSO) for swimming.
Swimmers who rise up through the ranks of the provincial and national SWAD programs may eventually have the opportunity to represent their country at major international events.
With over 60 swimmers registered with member clubs across the province, Ontario has more Swimmers with a Disability participating in competitive swim programs than any other province and most recently, at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, 6 of Team Canada’s 21 swimmers were Ontario products, including double gold-medalist and world record-setter Chelsey Gotell.
There are 14 officially recognized disability classifications. Swimmers in the functional classification system (FCS) compete in classes S1 to S10, and include athletes with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, dysmalia, amputations, and other disabilities that fall under the “les autres” designation. Athletes with more significant disabilities compete in the lower classes, S1 to S5, while S10 athletes are deemed least disabled.
S11, S12 and S13 athletes are those with visual disabilities, with S11 swimmers being completely blind, and 12’s and 13’s having reduced visual acuity and field of vision.
To be assigned a disability class for swimming, athletes must go through the classification process. For those athletes in the functional system this usually involves a Bench Test, which is an evaluation of strength, co-ordination and range of motion conducted by a certified medical classifier. A point value ranging from 0-5 is assigned to each task, and at the conclusion of the bench test these point values are tabulated to arrive at a classification recommendation. The higher the point score, the higher the classification.
The swimmer usually is then asked to perform a water test overseen by a certified technical classifier, who is primarily watching for movements in the water that verify the classification decision arrived at through the Bench Test, including observation of body position, stroke execution, turning and starting.
In order to be assigned a visual disability classification, athletes with visual impairment must simply provide the results of an opthamological examination.
The S14 classification is for those swimmers deemed to have some form of intellectual disability, which must be supported by documentation from several experts, including but not limited to educators and/or psychologists. The S14 disability class has not been officially recognized by the IPC since 2000, but Swim Ontario continues to provide program opportunities for these athletes in the hope that eventually they will gain reinstatement into IPC-sanctioned events.
To be classified swimmers or their coaches must contact Swim Ontario for the next available classification opportunity, which usually occur twice per year.
Swimmers are encouraged to have attained a satisfactory level of technical mastery and fitness before considering a classification opportunity.
WHY JOIN A SWIM ONTARIO CLUB?
Swimmers with a Disability are encouraged to investigate all competitive swim club options in their area – clubs are encouraged to provide opportunities for children of all ability levels, and this includes the integration of swimmers with a disability into their able-bodied competitive programs.
Once registered with a swim club, swimmers are eligible to train in and compete for their club. All training and competition decisions are the responsibility of the club Head Coach. Once the requisite level of skill development and training has occurred, swimmers with a disability may participate in competition, usually starting at the regional level. To compete at Regional, Provincial and National Championship meets, usually held twice each year, time standards must be achieved. For those swimmers who do rise through the ranks to compete at the Provincial and National levels and achieve top performances, Swim Ontario offers several initiatives, including training camps, tour teams, and financial incentives.
Ontario boasts some of the world’s most knowledgeable, dedicated and motivated coaches, who have undergone years of training and education to help Ontario consistently deliver on its mission statement of “leading Canadian swimming at every level.” Whether full-time or part-time, paid or volunteer, Swim Ontario-recognized coaches will use every resource available to them to help ensure the best training and competitive opportunities for their swimmers with a disability.
Children with a disability who choose to become part of a Swim Ontario club will reap many benefits, including mastery of a potentially life-saving skill, superior coaching, a team environment, opportunities to travel and compete, and opportunities for reward and recognition. Swim Ontario encourages all children with a disability to investigate their nearest competitive swim club option.