Medal-winning stars ensure Hartlepool youngsters have splashing time at swim session

Two paralympic medal-winning stars surprised a group of Hartlepool youngsters when they joined them at their weekly swimming session.

Josef Craig and Matt Wylie along with their coach Danny Thompson called in to the town’s Mill House Leisure Centre to meet pupils from the town’s Springwell School.

The trio from City of Sunderland Amateur Swimming Club spent around two hours with 23 children aged between five and 11, working first in a classroom and then taking to the pool.

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Their visit was arranged by Hartlepool Borough Council’s assistant aquatics manager David Grainge through his friendship with Danny.

Matt, 20, from Washington, who has cerebral palsy, won the gold medal in the 50m freestyle event at the 2016 Rio Paralympics after having also won gold at the European Championships earlier in the year.

He said: “Swimming internationally has opened many doors for us and we get to travel the world, but it is also very important to us to give something back to the local community.

“We were delighted to come along and work with the children from Springwell School.”

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Josef, 19, from Jarrow, who also has cerebral palsy, was awarded an MBE in the 2013 New Year Honours List for services to swimming.

He won a gold medal in the 400m freestyle in a world record time at the 2012 London Paralympics. This year, in Rio, he won bronze in the 100m freestyle.

Josef said: “The aim was to give the children some new skills that they didn’t have before, but, most of all, we wanted to have fun and I’m sure that was the case.”

Springwell School PE teacher Scott Malabar said: “It was great to listen to Matt, Josef and Danny in the classroom – they were so inspirational.

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“It was amazing to see what Matt and Josef do day in day out and the hard work they are prepared to commit to in achieving their goals.

“The coaching provided by Danny was first-class and Matt and Josef worked so well with the children in the water.

“We didn’t want the session to end. The big thing for me was how willing and happy they were to come and do this.”

Danny, one of the Team GB coaches at the Rio Paralympics, said: “Our message is that swimming is for everyone and regardless of ability or disability there are ways to be successful.”