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Local Hero – Southampton

Active Nation are so happy to begin our 2018 Local Hero series with an incredible Southampton hero, Matthew. Matthew has autism, ataxic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, pathological demand avoidance disorder, and dyspraxia. This affects his movement and coordination, means that his speech is limited, and often means that Matthew struggles with self-confidence and social situations. As a child he was told he would never be able to swim. However, Matthew has achieved something that no one expected – he has learned to dive.

In 2014 Matthew began lessons at Southampton’s Diving Disability Programme (Divability), travelling all the way from the Isle of Wight on the ferry each week with his carer. During his first few diving sessions, Matthew learned to stand at the edge of the pool and, from one foot, fall feet first into the water. To do this, however, he required quite a bit of physical support. For a while he was also unable to stand on a poolside diving block without assistance. Yet, despite being unable to complete a full dive, Matthew found a love for the lessons and continued practicing.

The following year, Mollie James began coaching him and, through the trust and bond the pair developed over time, Matthew has exceeded all expectations and achieved incredible physical accomplishments. He is now able to climb up to the 3m diving board completely independently. What’s more, Matthew has recently performed something that most people could not manage – a head-first dive from a 5m board! From originally being unable to jump into the pool without assistance, Matthew has developed the confidence to reimagine his abilities as well as his goals, with his sights now set on becoming a Red Bull Cliff Diver!

Through his lessons with Divability, Matthew has gained strength, balance, coordination and self-confidence – as well as learning to dive better than the average able-bodied person! The journey Matthew has been on is truly incredible, and his love for the sport and perseverance in the face of obstacles should serve as inspiration for anyone who might doubt their own potential.

Set up in 2010, Divability runs at The Quays Swimming and Diving Complex in Southampton and encourages young people, aged 7-19 years, to get involved in the exciting sport. The sessions are available to people with physical and/or learning disabilities, along with their families and carers. Active Nation Southampton also now offer free pre-visits, as well as 30-minute taster sessions. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, find out more about our Divability programme here.

As far as we know, Divability was the first in the world to offer this specific programme, and we were incredibly proud to be chosen for one out of only three places in the Spark of Innovation (Programme) category final at the UKactive and Matrix Flame Awards 2013. But we are most proud to see the amazing progress, in both the sport and in themselves, that people like Matthew can make when they put their minds to it.

We look forward to watching you diving, from our front row seats at a Red Bull Cliff Diving event Matthew!

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