David Roberts: 'Swimming is my life'

When David Roberts was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 11, doctors told him swimming would be the best form of physical treatment.

This article was part of a special report on the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. It was archived in July 2013 and will no longer be reviewed.

What started as physiotherapy quickly turned into a life-changing experience. David has since reached the top of his sport. He won seven gold medals in the Sydney and Athens Paralympics.

With four more golds at the 2008 Beijing Games, the 33-year-old Welshman has equalled Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, with 11 titles.

Swim to stay supple

After his diagnosis, David started going to a swimming club for people with disabilities in Cardiff for half an hour every Sunday.

"I found I really enjoyed it and it all went from there," he says.

David has a mild form of cerebral palsy caused by damage to the brain. It normally occurs before, during or soon after birth.

"Cerebral palsy affects my co-ordination and flexibility," says David, from Pontypridd. "My feet turn in so I ruin my trainers pretty quickly.

"As a boy, doctors told me I needed to be active and swimming was the best activity for me to stay supple. If I didn't do anything I'd get stiff."

David was selected to represent Wales when he was 14. Five years later, he represented Great Britain for the first time in the European Championships.

"I entered four races and came away with four gold medals," says David, who competes in sprint and long-distance events.

His parents offered encouragement rather than pressure. "I was fortunate that my parents were willing to take me to swimming pools up and down the country," he says.

"Physiotherapy made me start swimming, but I realised I was quite good at it. I started winning and eventually swimming became my life. It's been a life-changing experience."

Do it for fun

David has worked hard for his success. He spends 16 hours a week in the pool and four hours a week in the gym.

"I just go out there and enjoy myself," says David. "And I'll keep on going until I don't enjoy it any more."

He also works as an assistant coach for the Dragons Disabled Swimming Club in Caerphilly, outside Cardiff.

The club's mission is to offer competitive-minded disabled swimmers the opportunity to compete at regional and national level.

Already awarded an MBE, Dave received a CBE in 2009.

"I've achieved so much through swimming, so being involved at a grassroots level is my way of putting back into the sport what it's given me."

David's motto is to have fun, whatever sport you get into.

"That's the only way you'll stay motivated to keep going," he says. "Whether you want to take it seriously or do it for fun, I think everybody should be able to swim.

"It's more than a sport: it's a life skill."

Page last reviewed: 02/07/2013

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