Swimming for Para-athletes

While many sports are adapted and slightly altered for individuals with disabilities, swimming is a sport that anyone can do. It just takes a little bit of learning and a lot of practice. Swimming has been a part of the Paralympics since the first Games in 1960 in Rome. Today, both men and women participate in these highly competitive races, taking place in 50-meter pools. However, even if you aren’t interested in competing, swimming is a great way to get a workout while having fun.

Who Can Swim?

The nice thing about swimming is that anyone can learn to do it recreationally! Not only does swimming provide you with a fun activity to do with family and friends, but it’s also an important skill that can be lifesaving in certain situations.

When it comes to swimming competitions, like the Paralympics, there are some qualifications you must meet. Competitions are open to male and female athletes with physical disabilities such as amputation or limb loss, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, brain injury, stroke, dwarfism, cognitive impairment and blindness or visual impairment. However, no prostheses or assistive devices are permitted in the pool when competing.

According to Adaptive Sports USA, para-athletes are classified on their functional ability to perform each stroke. Their skills are tested in freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and medley events. Learn more about classifications on the Team USA website.

Where to Start

We recommend starting off by taking lessons or getting a coach. Working one-on-one with someone knowledgeable and experienced can help you figure out your best streamline and start learning strokes. While those parts of your lessons will be tailored to your body type and abilities, other parts of swimming like breathing, comfort, balance, reach and smooth are the same for all swimmers.

Depending on whether you want to compete or just swim for fun determines on how many lessons you need. If you want to learn basic swimming techniques to be able to swim alongside family and friends, you don’t need as many lessons. If you want to swim competitively, you may need more coaching.

Swim Competitions and Events

There are many organizations in the USA that hold swim meets, such as Adaptive Sports USA, U.S. Paralympics and USA Swimming. In fact, Paralympic swimming competitions are among the largest and most popular events in the Paralympic Games. Because of its popularity, there are many opportunities to be a part of swim events around the country.

In addition to getting a swim coach, you can attend camps and clinics. For more information, dates and location of events, visit teamusa.org.


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