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"The boys have responded very well to the teachers ... we have been lucky with the Y."

Finlay and Stanley - Swim Students
Finlay and Stanley - Swim Students Holly encourages other parents to enrol their children in swimming lessons from a young age.

For mother-of-two Holly, the decision to enrol her children in the Y’s Swimming Program was motivated by a desire to keep her family safe while experiencing quality time together in the Australian outdoors.

“They fill my cup,” says Holly of spending weekends with her husband Hamish, sons Finlay aged five,  Stanley aged 16 months, and Tamaruke dog, Goldie. And living in Australia, it was important for Holly and Hamish for their sons to feel safe around water, so swimming classes were something they wanted to do as early as possible.

Finlay started lessons aged six months. When the McDonalds moved to the area two years later, they came across the Y’s swimming program and swapped him over. Finlay took to it straight away.

“He loved it so much and he responded to the teachers there,” Holly said. “We feel lucky to have had a teacher who was super encouraging and happy for Hamish to sit on the side so Finlay felt confident going in on his own.”

Safety became an even stronger focus when Stanley came along. Stanley also began swimming lessons at six months old, but two months later, his progress slowed due to left-sided hemiplegia cerebral palsy. This type of cerebral palsy affects only one side of the body and is caused by injury to the spinal cord or brain. Signs of the condition include poor muscle control, muscle stiffness, and weakness.

“At first, the general program wasn’t a challenge for Stanley as it was about familiarisation with water rather than having to paddle or do kicking. But when it was time for him to go up a level, a lot of his peers were crawling and walking and we started to notice a dramatic difference – Stanley wasn’t yet crawling,” Holly said.

She approached two of the teachers and they suggested moving Stanley across to the Y’s ‘Swimability’ program so he could learn at his own pace. The program focuses on giving potentially life-saving swimming lessons to people of all ages with physical and intellectual disabilities, with a focus on developing aquatic fitness and water safety skills. 

Holly describes the journeys of her sons as ‘different’ and delights in each: “I love seeing the boys really progress and see their excitement when they hear ‘it’s swimming tomorrow’.” 

“Finlay loves his teacher and his face lights up. He’s made lots of little friends and they’ve remained consistent as they’ve moved generally through at the same pace. He is learning strokes now and it would be awesome one day to see him participate in his first swimming carnival.

“Stanley is doing his best – it’s a different journey for him. Because we started him young, he’s not at all phased by water over his head. As soon as he’s in the water, his legs are kicking,” she said. “The lessons help with his therapy, building up muscles and tone. It’s so great to have a different outlet for him, something he clearly enjoys, that’s also helping him move along his journey.”

Today, it puts Holly and Hamish’s minds at ease to know their children are comfortable around water and can participate in social and family experiences.

“Finlay’s confidence around water has really grown,” Holly said. “He goes over to friend’s places with pools and knows how to get to the edge, put himself onto his back if he gets tired, and how to look after himself. We went on a family holiday in January to Port Macquarie. Stanley was happy to sit in the shallows and Finlay went into the water. Of course, we always supervise, but as parents, it’s very comforting.”

The boys’ love of water is something Holly credits to starting lessons when they were very young. Her advice to other parents is to do the same, even if it means getting into the pool with them at first.

“I’ve spoken to a few people who have held off until they don’t have to go in the pool with their children. But I think starting them when they’re young solidifies for them that if Mum or Dad is getting in and putting their face in the water, swimming is a good thing.”

“Children are a bit more knowing as they get older and they can sometimes get that fear. Finlay just runs and jumps and leaps in. Stanley loves water being poured over his head and recognises the cues so clearly. It reassures me that if he fell into the water, he’d know what to do,” Holly said.

Holly and Hamish describe their sons as a lot happier when they’re moving and doing things. They say the positive experiences they’ve had at the Y is helping them cultivate an active lifestyle they encourage their children to lead. 

“The boys have responded very well to the teachers and there’s been good consistency in the years we have been here – we have been lucky with the Y,” Holly said.

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