Meet Sahara

Sahara in the poolRoyal Life Saving WA realises that while it is vital for all children to learn swimming and water safety skills, for some children it’s just not possible to take part in standard group swimming classes. For this reason we’ve partnered with Kwinana Recquatic over the past few years to provide the SAIL (Specialised Access and Inclusion Lessons) program to cater for kids with special needs.

Statistics show that of the children aged 0-14 years who drowned across Australia in the past decade, 15% had special needs. Many of these children miss out on learning to Swim and Survive due to the fact that the one-on-one classes they need are far too expensive and place this option out of reach for their family.

SAIL provides subsidised one-on-one swimming lessons, ensuring these children don’t miss out due to financial barriers. The program not only teaches children swimming skills, but makes a real difference in their overall health.

One child who has benefitted from the SAIL program over the past couple of years is 11-year-old Sahara Pittaway. Sahara has been involved in SAIL since February 2019, having just finished treatment for brain cancer. She needed to include as much movement as possible in her routine to try and regain some strength back from her treatment.Sahara with her instructor in the water with a kickboard

Sahara’s mum Michelle says there are a number of reasons why regular group swimming classes were not a viable option for her. “Sahara has a slow cognitive processing due to the impact of the tumour and surgery and has been left with a lot of disabilities. This impacts how fast the message is received and processed in the brain. If Sahara was in a group, she wouldn’t be able to keep up with direction and strength. Sometimes in the session, her instructor will ask her to do something and it can take 5 minutes just to get ready for it. The SAIL program allows for her to take the time she needs.”

Taking part in SAIL has made a real difference for Sahara, and Michelle says the change in her physical ability and overall health is remarkable. “When Sahara started with the program she would choke on the water due to a slow muscle response in her throat, but within the first term Sahara stopped choking on the water, so seeing that improvement was amazing and all her specialists where very happy. The strength Sahara has also gained from swimming has been amazing, she can hold more of her body weight longer and longer from regularly attending the lessons. Sahara suffers from fatigue and tires fast, so the half hour swimming works her whole body and takes the weight from her having to support herself. The improvements in her mental health are also noticeable and her instructor is amazing at keeping the session as simple as she needs it. Not having the pressure to finish a task within a time frame means Sahara doesn’t get frustrated and loves attending her session when she is able to.”

Sahara and her instructor in the poolApart from general health benefits Sahara has also gained vital swimming and water safety skills over the past couple of years. “Her swimming ability has improved. It takes her longer to pass a level, but that’s not our agenda. I have always made it about having fun and also learning to be safe in and around water, and her instructor has been great about supporting that” says Michelle.
For those struggling to find a place for their special needs child to flourish in the water Michelle says the SAIL program is a fantastic option. “I have recommended this program to many people who’ve been struggling to find programs that support those who need variations to swimming. With invisible disabilities it’s tricky to find organisations that are inclusive. For Sahara, she has visible and invisible disabilities and at times people are confused as to what they can do to be inclusive without doing everything for her. As Audrey Hepburn said ‘Nothing is impossible, the word it says I’m possible’.”

Would you like to help us making swimming and water safety lessons possible for children with special needs? You can assist by making a donation to our Swim and Survive Fund.

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