Ask any swimmer about the trials and tribulations of swimming and the full athlete experience. They will gladly inform you of their gruelling routine which is religiously followed with an eager heart whilst chasing a goal, a dream, in short, their vision of success. A typical day of training starts with an early morning session about two hours, a gruelling gym session, followed by the notorious evening three-hour sets. Not to mention, while everyone else enjoys their weekends, swimmers still dedicate themselves to Friday and Saturday sessions, and if they are lucky a Sunday recovery session might be the reward for the hard work of the week. All of this done for the love of the sport and the personal victory of achieving a goal. This routine is repeated all year round, by all swimmers - from the blind and visually impaired (VIP), disabled and able-body swimmers. The emotional, mental and physical endurance necessary to clock all those hours on the pool indicates the strong will and character developed by the sport.
VIP swimming is recognised as a Paralympic sport, and will be well represented at Rio. VIP swimmers are expected to perform the same strokes as their able body counterparts, so freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke. The various distances they compete in range from the 50m sprint, to the longer distances such as the 800m and 1500m. They are led to the starting blocks, and a buzzer signifies the start of the race. VIPs also compete in relay events.
Image: Visually impaired swimmers racing with tappers waiting on the side.
You may wonder how do they know when their teammate touches the wall, or how do they know where the wall is to turn- for individual races and relays? Well, a team coach directs the takeover for relays, while a technique called tapping was developed to let the swimmer know that the end of the pool is coming, and when to turn. A knowledgeable and experienced sighted sport guide (tapper), stands at each end of the pool, holding a long pole with a soft circular ball on the end. As the swimmer approaches they are tapped on the head. These tappers are essential in enabling VIP swimmers to reach their optimum performance level, and a high level of trust is crucial. The relationship between the tapper and swimmer make it possible for VIP swimmers to test their limits in training and competition. We wish all competitors the best of luck for the games, and that their results are a fair reflection of all the hard work put into their passion.