“I Think I Became a Swimmer Rather than Just Someone with a Disability Swimming Up and Down”: Paralympic Athletes Perceptions of Self and Identity Development
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the role of swimming on Paralympic athletes’ perceptions of self and identity development. Method: A hermeneutic phenomenological approach was taken. During semi-structured interviews five Paralympic swimmers (aged 20-24 years) were asked questions about their swimming career, perceptions of self, integration, and impairment. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Results: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis1 yielded three superordinate themes: a) ‘One of the crowd’; none of the participants viewed themselves as disabled, nor as supercrips; these perceptions stemmed from family-, school-, and swimming- related experiences, b) ‘Becoming me’; participation in swimming facilitated self- and social-acceptance, and identity development, and c) ‘A badge of honour’; swimming presented opportunity to present and reinforce a positive identity. Conclusions: Swimming experiences enabled the participants to enhance personal and social identities, integrate through pro-social mechanisms, and to develop a career path following retirement from competition.through pro-social mechanisms, and to develop a career path following retirement from competition.