Coach who established club for disabled swimmers is honoured

Mike Haines has been awarded the British Empire Medal. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Mike Haines has been awarded the British Empire Medal. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

A coach was so appalled at the way a disabled child was treated at a swimming session that he decided to set up a club for youngsters with disabilities.

Mike Haines, 60, from Pidley, even took a year off work to make sure the club got off to a solid start.

Now he has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for his work with disabled children after he was nominated by parents.

"It has been the proudest thing I have ever done," said Mike, who works as a share trader.

More than 200 people from the age of eight have now gone through the City of Cambridge Disability Swimming Club, some staying on until adulthood, with the swimmers bringing in a stack of medals at top level events.

The club, which is based at the Parkside and Abbey pools in Cambridge, was started in 2006 and takes youngsters from across the region, including the Huntingdon area.

Mike started the club after noticing a disabled youngster was being ignored during a swimming session.

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He had been coaching able-bodied swimmers when he spotted the child in a separate group and eventually decided to intervene.

"I could see this lad had been left clinging on to the side while the others were swimming," Mike said. "In the end I left my group, who were high level swimmers, to get on with what they were doing and went over to ask why the boy wasn't taking part with the others.

"I was told 'He is disabled' and I thought 'What's that got to do with it?',".

Mike said too many young people with disabilities had been told they were unable to take part in activities so often that they had come to believe it and so he decided to start the club.

He said the youngsters, who just wanted to be treated like anyone else, were pushed to get the best results they could, frequently surprising both themselves and their parents over what they could achieve.

Mike said the disabled swimmers were treated in the same way as able-bodied members and if they did not do as they were told they had to leave because the club was a serious competitive organisation.

"We train to compete, we are not here for physio," Mike said.

He said: "It is by far the hardest thing I have done and if anything goes on my gravestone it should be that."

Mike said he was overwhelmed by the award and felt it recognised genuine volunteer effort in the community.