Samuel Haslam is 30 and has Downs syndrome.
From the ages 15 to 25 he swam for Great Britain in the Down Syndrome World Championships, travelling the world from Ireland to Taiwan.
Although he still swims at national level, Samuel decided to give up international competitions as he was unable to maintain the training schedule required after he moved into a supported living flat and started working full time.
However, he decided that he wanted to help younger people achieve what he achieved. On finishing college he volunteered at a swimming club in Windsor, where he coached two swimmers who are now both part of the national squad to which he belonged.
For his efforts, Samuel won the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead volunteer of the Year Award.
Disappointed that he could not be in the Paralympics, he enrolled as a Gamesmaker for London 2012 (he described the experience as ‘really cool’) and was featured on Channel Four and BBC news in the role.
He was also selected in 2016 by Special Olympics Great Britain as one of its 12 national Athlete Leaders and gave a talk to them about the value of volunteering.
Unable to travel independently, but wanting to continue helping swimmers with learning disabilities, Samuel began volunteering at a club near his home, STARFISH, but felt he lacked the skills needed to coach properly.
Earlier this year he asked to take a level one aquatics coaching course with Swim England – not an easy feat for someone who cannot read and write and has a limited IQ. He was the only disabled attendee and struggled to understand some of the complexities of safeguarding and data protection.
The examiner, however, was so impressed by Samuel’s commitment that he told Samuel and his family the great effect he’d had on the group, stating that it had made him remember that people swim for a variety of reasons and that all swimmers deserve equal respect whether swimming in a club or county level.
The examiner adapted the final written piece by permitting Sam to write a coaching session for a group of learning disabled swimmers rather than for county level swimmers.
Both Sam and his tutor found the course difficult, and were slightly overwhelmed by the classes. But by the end of the course, Sam’s tutor spoke of his admiration for him and his new insight into the value of swimming for those with learning disabilities.
Despite the enormous difficulties, Samuel passed the course and can now continue to coach and inspire people with learning disabilities, armed with the skills and knowledge to do it properly.
Cooking up something good
Since 2010, Sam has been working full time, at first in the kitchen of the famous Eton College – even being featured on BBC News; before moving on to Wycombe Abbey School.
He is also a keen thespian and is a regular member of his local drama group.
After being told he was a Leaders’ List winner, Sam said: “I am gobsmacked – I am amazed but also proud of what I have done”.
Sam’s mum Lynne said: “Sam does not allow having Downs Syndrome to hold him back!”