It could have been the start of a channel swim anywhere in the world.

Nervous laughter. Strange rituals. Last minute costume changes. Google adjustments and malfunctions, tantrums, tears, coaches trying to get their charges in the right frame of mind. Apprehensive loved ones watching on with a mix of emotions; pride, fear, and joy.

But it wasn’t.

It was the Little Heroes Swim Academy for children with special needs and their siblings, in a tepid indoor pool above a leagues club south of Sydney on a Sunday afternoon.

In 3 hours over 50 children between 4 and 12 came and went seamlessly as the instructors handed one back to a parent in exchange for another on half hourly intervals.

The classic drills were all in use - bubble, bubble breath - big arms - one arm, two arms, and there were torpedo’s and submarines. As children’s swim schools go it was on one level all pretty normal.

Except it wasn’t.

The students, in the main, live with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and all manner of conditions from who knows what causes or consequences. It doesn’t really matter to anyone present, except for an awareness of what’s safe and what’s possible.

And it occurred to me, we are them, and they are us.

Their goals are relative. It might be to get to the edge, to get in, to immerse, to swim, to finish. There are days, many days, when the best of us struggle with these very same tasks. What matters is that we all have goals.

They were most probably born with their conditions, we might have been too or perhaps we acquired them along the way; depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse. It’s not a competition, they’re all debilitating. The competition lies only within, when we determine to beat that which threatens to hold us back in that moment.

Water brings with it community, relationships and friends. We might have coffee and banter before and after our swims. Their emotions might be expressed in a cheeky splash, the confidence to try something having seen a peer succeed.

And for the non-verbal, the unsighted and hearing impaired it might be a touch, or the lessening of a vice like grip as trust builds and the sound and feel of water has its calming way.

These are little heroes and they instruct the best of us. is the nominated charity for the Australian Channel Swimmers Inaugural Dinner, 17 November 2018 Tickets available at