Edinburgh swimmer Sam Downie qualifies for GB team's para-swimming squad

An Edinburgh teenager who has a condition affecting his mobility from the waist down is “elated” after he qualified for Great Britain’s para-swimming squad.

By Annabelle Gauntlett
Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, 4:55 am
Updated Thursday, 24th March 2022, 8:01 pm

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Sam Downie was diagnosed with Caudal Regression Syndrome when he was born, affecting his mobility from the waist down.

From a young age, Sam experienced severe cramping, pressure sores, regular headaches and struggled with confidence due to his condition.

Sam Downie started swimming when he was just eight-year-old after he was advised to take up a non-contact sport

His mum, Gillian Downie, said: “It is through Sam’s sheer determination that he can even walk.”

As a young boy he was keen to get involved in the contact sports that his diagnosis restricted him from.

This all changed when eight-year-old Sam was informed of a non-contact sport that he could participate in, which happened to be swimming. Sam was eager to start immediately and joined the Musselburgh swim squad in 2014.

Sam had to adapt to a different normality in the water, reliant on using his upper strength to manoeuvre the pool.

Sam Downie has qualified for the Great Britain para-swimming squad

And while it was an adjustment for Sam, his determined nature enabled him to thrive as he started to win numerous competitions at the Lothian racers club by the age of nine.

Sam said: “Swimming has allowed me to take control of my future and inspire other people with the same condition to not look at it as a disability, but just a different lifestyle.”

The 16-year-old has won various awards for his para-swimming achievements, including winning the LDS young sportsperson of the year award twice and endless competitions. He has already broken two Scottish and two British records and is the youngest to qualify for the World Para Series for Team GB.

On qualifying, Sam said: “It felt amazing. I had been working so hard to make those times, training 17 hours a week. What makes it even more special is knowing how difficult the GB standard times are compared to other qualifying times”.

Sam Downie suffers from a condition which sees his mobility affected below his waist

With Gillian having also become a disability officer for Musselburgh and East Lothian swim team, she said swimming “has really become part of the family and our day-to-day life”.

While swimming has been a huge part of Sam’s life, he has also had to juggle his education as he is currently studying for seven of his National 5 exams.

He plans to go to university to continue his passion for sports by studying sport science as a degree, but said “the dream is to win a gold medal at the world paralympics”.

Both Sam’s family, and the head coach of East Lothian swim team, Jamie Ward, said they are so proud of him reaching his ambitions at such a young age, especially with his condition.

Jamie, who has been coaching Sam for five years, said: "From the get go we recognised his talent, but even more his work ethic and drive to succeed.

"Swimming is the only sport Sam is allowed to compete in due to his condition, but no one would know he has a disability as he is no different to any of the other boys I coach. It most certainly has not become a limiting factor for Sam, he makes it look so easy.”

He added that he believed Sam to be more than capable of achieving his dream of winning a gold medal.

"The sky's the limit for that boy- to achieve everything he has done at just 16 is beyond amazing for any athlete, despite his disability.

"Sam has physical limitations, but nothing slows him down. He is great at adapting, has an amazing work ethic and fantastic communication skills. He deserves everything he has achieved."

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