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With more than 2000 Nippers competing at the recent NSW Surf Life Saving Championships at Swansea Belmont SLSC, there was no shortage of stories of great sportsmanship or displays of camaraderie. But perhaps none was more uplifting than seeing young Aden Clarke from North Cronulla SLSC, surrounded and supported by his mates, competing at his first State Champs.

Aden’s Down Syndrome has never been an issue for his friends at North Cronulla where he has taken part in Nippers since he was six years old. When he learned to swim, Aden enjoyed competing in club events and has been to previous State Championships to cheer on his sister Gemma.

Aden participates in the Under 13s but would normally have been forced to compete at the Championships in an older age group, however North Cronulla’s junior activities director Donna Hargreaves took it on to see if some flexibility could be applied.

“He was asking me, why aren’t I doing it with my mates?” said Aden’s dad Stuart Clarke.

The SLSNSW Championship Committee agreed to Aden competing in the U13 events and judging by the smile on his face and the slaps on the back from the North Cronulla kids under the tent, Aden had a ball.

His dad Stuart said it was great to see him included and despite some slightly over-protective water safety volunteers during his race, Aden was treated like any other competitor and also took part in the beach events including the sprint and beach relay.

“The reception he got coming up the beach after the swim race was just sensational,” said Stuart.

“The club and the kids have been so supportive of Aden and it said it all for me when one of our best performing kids said to Aden, ‘if you come to State, I’ll do the Tube Rescue race with you’.”

North Cronulla’s junior activities director Donna Hargreaves said the club has always been about inclusion and she believes that with the right support, every member has the chance to thrive.

“Aden loves the surf club and what it has given him and I wanted to give Aden the one thing that he wanted most - to be able to compete at major carnivals just like his mates.

“Our goal at North Cronulla next season is to see Aden and other members with disabilities be able to compete in their own events and have that opportunity to go for gold!" said Donna Hargreaves. 

Surf Life Saving NSW Director of Surf Sport, Don van Keimpema, said it was great to see Aden have such a good time at State Champs.

“As a movement, I think it’s so important that we look at ways we can improve inclusion and participation for all our members,” said Don van Keimpema.

Aden has recently passed his resuscitation skills training and later in the year will work towards gaining his Surf Rescue Certificate, alongside all his friends.


Wednesday 21 March 2018