This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Blogging about swimming for the time being. / 20 August 2012

Deborah Caulfield wearing swimming goggles

Deborah Caulfield wearing swimming goggles. 2008

Zoom in to this image and read text description

The build-up to the Paralympics has begun, with nightly programmes on Channel 4. It’s extremely exciting.

So I’m quietly reflecting on the business of disabled people doing sport, and feeling rather in awe but mostly baffled and untouched.

So much rushing about.

At school (Chailey Heritage) no one did sport. It was ‘games’, occasionally football and rounders, but always a lot of cricket. School (boys) against Masters and so on. People being bowled over with their legs caught between two stumps, before the wicket.

All played in slow motion.

The Heritage Magazine of 1958 said of the Sports Days in 1956, 57 and 58: ‘each event provided us with the usual good fun and friendly rivalry.’

I used to enjoy running and skipping about. It made a pleasant change from lying flat on my back, which I’d done for most of the first eight years of my life.  Being ‘up and about’ (a medical term for not dead) was great. Then suddenly physical fun was forbidden, on health grounds. ‘No games!’ they said.


So I had to endure the heat and boredom of watching games lessons and spectating at sports events, where the rules were unfathomable and the scores irrelevant. I didn’t care who won. They could keep their stupid shields and cups.

One year they asked me to keep score for Sports Day. I had no idea what was going on out in the field, but I was good at writing the names and numbers on the board.

About 25 years ago I started swimming, not seriously, but properly, mainly so I could take my two small children. It required huge mental effort to overcome self consciousness. I persuaded myself I looked alright, though I knew I didn’t. It was a case of ‘what the hell.'

Swimming is a big part of my life now. I'm at the pool at least twice a week. I don’t count lengths. I swim for an hour, slowly.

Then I go home and have my dinner, or maybe a cheese sandwich.


Keywords: 2012 olympics,chailey heritage,paralympics,sport,swimming