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Swimming Coach Jill Stidever: Thinking Outside the Box

With her 80th birthday in sight and thousands of happy swimmers splashing along in her wake, inspirational swimming coach Jill Stidever is a very modest and until recently ‘unsung hero’. Richard Jones discovers her story and why ‘thinking outside the box’ is key when coaching people with disabilities

In December 2014, at a star-studded ceremony in Glasgow, Jill Stidever was presented with the BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero award in recognition of her work: over 60 years teaching thousands of children with disabilities to swim.

All the time I kept thinking ‘why me, I'm just a volunteer?’ And yet the number of times I have said to people, ‘you're not just a volunteer’. But there I was feeling the exact same thing. It was unbelievable."

Despite having one of the biggest accolades in UK sport bestowed on her, the modest 78-year-old from Leicestershire insists she still takes more pride out of helping people to learn the life skill and changing the perception of sport for disabled people, than winning awards. 

“The most fulfilling moments in this job are very much every day when you succeed in doing something with someone that they, and others, believed they'd never do,” she explains. “You have proved the ability not the disability.

“But, of course, the proudest moment of my life was when my daughter Jane won gold in the 1984 Paralympic Games in New York – not for swimming though, for equestrian. And I've always believed that swimming and riding are the two sports that help people with physical difficulties the most.”

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