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Swimming with a disability: Para-swimmer Andrew Mullen’s Paralympic journey

If you follow the Paralympics, you’ll recognise Andrew Mullen, the 20-year-old Glaswegian who has scooped up medals in the Paralympic, World and European championships. Having narrowly missed out on medals at his Paralympic debut at London 2012 – he came fourth in both the 50m backstroke and 50m butterfly – Andrew swam his way to victory and claimed three medals at the Paralympic Games in Rio, including a silver in the 50m backstroke. Here, he tells us how he got started in the pool and gives suggestions for how you can take the plunge yourself.

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Para-swimmer Andrew Mullen

When did you learn to swim?

I started to learn when I was 5 or 6 with one-to-one lessons in Tolcross in Glasgow. I had learnt to swim competently by the age of 8 or 9, but I didn’t really enjoy it back then. My parents wanted me to get to a level of swimming where I’d be safe – they thought it would be a good life skill for me to have. They used a Motability Scheme car to take me to the pool back then – that was a massive help. From the swimming lessons the normal progression is to join a club, which I did when I was around 11. This is when I first started racing and when I really fell in love with the sport – it was the perfect way for me to employ my competitive nature. I naturally fell into the competitive side – I wasn’t pushed.

Did you face any challenges along the way?

There were some challenges finding somewhere suitable for me to swim. I started at a disability swimming club in Glasgow called Temple Swimming Club, who were great – they really gave me my start. But they had limited access to pool time. So I found an able-bodied club. To start with, a lot of people there weren’t sure what I was going to be able to handle and what I could do in the training, but soon they realized I was pretty good!

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 06:  Andrew Mullen of Great Britain celebrates winning the gold medal in the Men's 50m Butterfly S5 Final during the IPC Swimming European Championships held at the Pieter van den Hoogenband Swimming Stadium on August 6, 2014 in Eindhoven, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images).jpg
Winning gold at the IPC Swimming European Championships in The Netherlands

What support did you need?

Scottish Swimming were very good at identifying the fact that I had a bit of potential, and they assisted me in getting the pool time and access I needed.

Why swimming?

Swimming is great for general fitness – it’s one of the best forms of exercise. It’s just great for strength – and a lot of fun. Although I compete and it’s now my job, I also do it because I love it. It’s really sociable, especially once you get to be part of a club.

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Competing in the Men’s 50m Butterfly heat at the British Para-Swimming International Meet, Glasgow 2016

Do you have any advice for people who want to start swimming, for recreation or to a high level of the sport

The main thing is to have fun with it and not put too much pressure on yourself, especially if you’re at a young age. At the start it’s important that you do it because you want to – if you’re enjoying yourself you’re more likely to work hard and be involved in it for longer.

The main thing for kids and people in general is that they give things a try. There is a lot of stigma around disability and they might struggle. I struggled at the beginning but – with practice and perseverance – here I am. There are always going to be clubs and organisations to give you the support you need, so just get in contact with them and give it a bash!

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Andrew Mullen in the Men’s 200m Freestyle at the IPC Swimming European Championships

What’s your greatest achievement in the sport?

The Rio Paralympic Games in 2016. It had always been a goal from when I started swimming competitively to win a medal at the Paralympics. But I came home with 3 – I got a silver and two bronzes. I was proud of that.

How has the Motability Scheme made a difference to you?

Towards the start of my career when I was very young I used an electric wheelchair. Now that I drive myself I use a Motability Scheme car, which allows me to get to my training and to pretty much all my competitions in the UK. Without the Motability Scheme, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

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Andrew Mullen with one of his many gold medals

ANDREW’S PARA-SWIMMING TIPS

To get swimming yourself, contact one of the following organisations to have an assessment and figure out your level. From there, you can find a suitable pool, locate a club – and even start competing to become the next Andrew Mullen!

British Swimming

News on the progress of para-swimming in the UK.

London Swimming

All you need to know about para-swimming in the capital.

Scottish Swimming

Details on para-swimming in Scotland.

Swim England

Lots of information for aspiring swimmers, including the steps for becoming a para-swimmer and a list of suitable clubs in England.

Motability Scheme

Having your own car, scooter or powered wheelchair can be an invaluable way of accessing para-swimming clubs and races. Find out more about the Motability Scheme here.

For more inspiration, check out some of our other articles:

7 of the UK’s most accessible adventure sports

Euan’s Paralympic highlights

Accessible days out for Father’s Day

12 accessible travel tips

More articles

More about the Motability Scheme

The Motability Scheme enables disabled people and their families to access a brand new car or scooter, by exchanging their mobility allowance to lease the vehicle of their choice. Find out more:

Get a free information pack

Why join the Scheme?

Image credits:

Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):

Header image: Men’s 50mButterfly in Glasgow 2016 Getty Images/Ian MacNicol

Andrew Mullen profile: Georgie Kerr

Winning gold at the IPC Swimming European Championships:Getty Images/Dean Mouhtaropoulos

Men’s 50m Butterfly in Glasgow 2016 Getty Images/Ian MacNicol

Andrew Mullen in the Men’s 200m Freestyle at the IPC Swimming European Championships: Getty Images/Dean Mouhtaropoulos

Andrew Mullen with one of his many gold medals: Getty Images/Ian MacNicol

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