I really enjoyed speaking at the Great Interactions launch at the National Media Museum, Bradford. It was great to hear from the other speakers but best of all were the photos in the exhibition. For me, of course the highlights were the sport based photos. There were two incredible photos of swimmers. It seems I can never get away from swimming!
I am a retired S14 Paralympian. I now run Dan Pepper Fitness and Well Being and am also head coach at Marple Swimming Club, Stockport amongst other roles. I like to keep busy and take on new challenges.
S14 is the classification for swimmers with intellectual disability. Athletes with Learning Disability were banned from the Paralympics following the Sydney 2000 games. This was because the Spanish Basketball team cheated by fielding ineligible players. All athletes with Learning Disability were banned for 9 years from all international competitions. All countries, all athletes. EVERYONE! I still get angry thinking about it. I passionately feel that we were discriminated against. Please contact the UK Sports Association if you would like to find out more about the ban period.
In my life every day is different. I have lots of different jobs, and am always happy to take on another one, like the MacIntyre talk. One day I could be running a fitness boot camp, the next swim coaching or training private clients, and the next doing a presentation or a motivational talk. I’m very lucky but have also worked hard to get a good support team around me to help make these opportunities happen.
Sport has been incredibly important in my life. It has given me everything. I wasn’t great at school academically but get me in a pool and I’d beat most people! I went from competing competitively at 12 to double world champion at 14. My disability never stood in my way of my success.
A big role model in my life was one of my coaches Steve Parry. He represented GB at the Olympics, European and World Championships. He made training fun! That’s hard to do when you have to get out of bed at 4:30am, in the pool by 5.15am and continue training until 6:30pm every day! He used to mix up his training with things like, who could do the best dive? Who could do the fastest 15m? Training became fun as well as challenging. I have taken this into my coaching both in the pool and on land.
My family were so supportive throughout my career. From a beginner to elite swimming and onwards. It is so important for everyone to have a strong support network, whether you have a disability or not. When you have had a tough day, a challenging day or a good day you still need someone to listen to you. My advice would be to build a strong team. That team could be family, friends, teachers, coaches, even managers! Build a team that are with you, not against you. Let them help you reach your goals but not achieve them for you. Importantly, always remember to achieve your goals for yourself, not anyone else. This was and is a very important part of my career.
Learning disability affects people in different ways. My disability meant I struggled to remember how many lengths I needed to do in the pool. For example, a 200m swim as a short course is 8 lengths but as a long course it’s 4 lengths. It was all very confusing for me! My coach made an easy to read table explaining the distances and how many lengths I needed to do. We stuck this poolside. It helped me concentrate on my race, learn my lengths and not get anxious about the swim. Simple adjustments can make all the difference! Be proud of yourself, be proud of who you are, be proud of what you have and want to achieve. Everyone needs support. For example, a diary to plan their time or a list to remember what they want to buy for tea! We just don’t call it support, it’s part of everyday life.
I was fortunate to have a great time at school. I had a great set of friends and an amazing sisters, who saw me as Dan, not ‘Dan with a disability’. My friends and family have been as crucial to supporting me to succeed as was Mick Massey, my swimming coach. Mick was amazing for me. He coached as a 12 year old novice all the way to become a World Champion. He always kept me positive, knew when to push me and also knew when give me space. Mick pushed me to the max and was and still is a friend I can lean on. This year, I’m lucky enough to be marrying his daughter and my fiancée, Natalie Massey! He will never get away from me now!
I am also an Ambassador for the UK Sports Association’s, My Sport, My Voice! project. I love being an Ambassador. I get to do events like the Great Interactions launch! My role is to raise awareness, challenge people’s perceptions and show people what people with learning disability can achieve! I have been able to talk at the House of Lords, talk to 500+ people at the School Games and even co-deliver the Inaugural Inas Awards.
The project enables our Ambassadors and Reps to talk openly about their training, achievements, and overcoming personal challenges. It also means we can talk to policy and decision-makers about how much people with learning disability can, and want, to play a much more prominent role in society. UKSA thanks them all for their huge contribution to date.
Blog by Dan Pepper – March 2016