Olympic hopeful Stephanie Slater never thought she would swim again after she lost the use of her arm but her voluntary experience as a London 2012 Games Maker has inspired her to get back in the pool.
Stephanie Slater was one of Team GB's swimming hopefuls four years ago, hoping to swim for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the London 2012 Games. But at the young age of 20, Stephanie's swimming career came to a halt when she suffered unexplained nerve damage during a training session and lost the use of her left arm.
She accepted that her dream to compete at London 2012 was over but her drive to still be a part of the Games inspired her to volunteer as a Game Maker. Stephanie said " I volunteered at some top swimming competitions throughout my teenage years, so, when I was offered a place at the Paralympics as a Games Maker based at the Aquatics Centre I was so excited. It was the next best thing to competing there."
As Games Maker, Steph could still be part of London 2012. More importantly, she could give something back.
She continued "When I was four years old, I joined Preston Swimming Club and Longridge Gymnastics Club. Both clubs had volunteers who helped with coaching, officiating and running the clubs. Without these volunteers, the clubs would not have been able to function at the high level they did. I would have missed out not only on improving my swimming and gymnastics, but on the valuable life skills that I gained."
The experience as a Game Maker at the London 2012 Games has been life changing for Steph. Watching para-swimmers such as Team GB's Ellie Simmonds and USA swimmer Jessica Long has inspired her to get back in the pool again, she's definitely not giving up without a fight.
She said "I never thought it would be possible to swim again competitively, but when I saw others swimming fast with just one arm I was so inspired to go back to my club and give it a go."
Steph reinvented herself and came back as one of Britain's most promising para-swimmers. She won silver at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games with a European Record time and secured seven gold medals, including a World Record, at the IPC Swimming European Championships in Eindhoven just weeks after.
Volunteering gives different things to different people. For 24-year-old Steph, the experience of helping out at the London 2012 Paralympic Games changed her life and set her on the road to Rio.
What volunteering gave back
Steph first volunteered when she was 16 years old at Preston Swimming Club's disabilityhub and Preston Panthers. She gives a lot back through volunteering and it gives her a lot in return. So what does it give her?
"Volunteering is so rewarding to me, especially when I teach someone to swim who is frightened of the water, or - when I'm working with disabled children - seeing how much it enhances their lives and the beaming smiles on their faces. I absolutely love giving something back. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't down to all the fantastic volunteers I've had in my life."
"I gained my lifeguard qualification and am a Level 2 qualified swimming teacher, so helping teaching swimming put my skills to good use. Most of the children needed one-to-one tuition, so volunteers were essential. Some of the children were able to move to the mainstream swimming lessons at Preston Swimming Club as they had gained so much confidence through the lessons at the hub club."
"The atmosphere and experience of my time volunteering there were out of this world. I got to meet so many different people all from different walks of life and also experience lots of different roles as a Games Maker."
4. And it helps her swimming
"The competitions I entered wouldn't have taken place without all the volunteers. They do numerous roles such as officiating, timekeeping, sending the swimmers to poolside, refreshments and collecting results. Volunteers are still helping me now. The international competitions I attend mainly rely on volunteers to make the competitions run as smooth as possible. Hopefully, when people read this they will take up volunteering like I did, as the pride and rewards you get and the people you meet stay with you forever."
If you would you like to help out at your local swimming club then search for opportunities near you. You never know, you might change someone's life for the better.