“Sunday mornings are filled with smiles handwork and fun. I love coaching as much as I loved swimming.”
Daniel Bendle, from Swansea, is an extraordinary young man whose journey with Special Olympics GB is a true example of how opportunities presented through sport can transform lives.
Dan has worked tremendously hard to make the most of those opportunities, whose highlights as an athlete include winning multiple medals at Special Olympics National, European and World Games level as a swimmer.
Daniel participated at his first Special Olympics GB National Summer Games in Glasgow in 2005, winning a hat-trick of 1 Gold, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze medal.
His next Special Olympics GB National Summer Games was in Leicester 2009 where he won Gold and qualified for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens alongside 7,000 athletes from 180 countries. Daniel again won a hat-trick of 1 Gold, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze medal, only this time on the biggest of stages!
But it is not just as an athlete that Daniel has worked hard and enjoyed success. Daniel has used his experiences as an athlete, lived experience of intellectual disabilities and commitment to swimming to become a well-respected Head Coach of his beloved Swansea Stingrays, part of Special Olympics Wales and Swansea NPT.
Here Daniel tells his story, which saw him move into volunteering, coaching and employment after hanging up his goggles in 2012:
“Not long after one of the most amazing experience of my life at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games, I lost my mother in 2012 and it was a tough year," Daniel explains. "But in 2012 I was selected to carry the Olympic torch on its journey to London and I was proud to carry it in honour of my mother. It was around this point that I then decided to hang up my goggles and turn to volunteering.
"One of my earliest volunteering experiences came at the 2013 Special Olympics National Games in Bristol and Bath. I loved being a volunteer at these games and wanted to continue volunteering at Swansea Stingrays as a swim coach.
"To help me on my coaching journey, Swansea Stingrays supported me with my Level 1 and 2 Teaching and Coaching qualifications. I had to work really hard to pass these qualifications but it was something I loved and I was determined to pass.
"At the end of 2016, Swansea Stingrays’ Head Coach retired after 13 years and I applied to take over. I officially become Head Coach in January 2017. I love the club and I have my own experiences to pass on to the swimmers.
"Volunteering and coaching for me has been really important in finding work. It is because of the support of Swansea Stingrays and their belief in me that today you can find me working as a lifeguard and teacher for mainstream swimmers and swimmers with intellectual disabilities at the Wales National Pool."
Angelina Rees, Steering Group member of Swansea Stingrays is clearly very proud of everything Daniel has achieved. She commented:
“We have a dynamic and inclusive amount of swimmers who we also provide volunteering opportunities for. Daniel is the perfect example of this who thoroughly deserves all the credit for his achievements. We are blessed to have Daniel and our swimmers who also sometimes volunteer to encourage our less able swimmers to boost their confidence.”
"Daniel’s journey into coaching, with support from his local sports club Swansea Stingrays, is a powerful example to the whole sports sector of why it is important that people with intellectual disabilities are given equal opportunity to volunteer and get onto the coaching pathway with National Governing Bodies. In doing so, the sport sector can become truly inclusive of people with intellectual disabilities and achieve wider social outcomes, employment being one of them.