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Champions of integration in the water

embers of Club Natación Marbella at the Antonio Serrano Lima swimming pool.
embers of Club Natación Marbella at the Antonio Serrano Lima swimming pool. / J.RODRÍGUEZ
  • Club Natación Marbella is the only swimming club in the province with an adapted section for people with physical, intellectual or sensory disabilities

  • Julia Fernández, Jorge Otalecu, Marc Bredoux, Manuel Montoya and Javier Labrador are considered high performance athletes by the Junta de Andalucía

It is a way of opening the door to integration. “Making these people visible and raising awareness of their right to practise sport.” That has been the philosophy of the Club Natación Marbella since, in 2013, it formed the first adapted swimming group in the province for people with physical, intellectual and sensorial disabilities.

The club, which uses the Antonio Serrano Lima pool, is fighting for the achievements of these young disabled swimmers to be recognised at the same level as other athletes. Their determination to integrate and break down barriers in order to compete has won the admiration of monitors and trainers from other clubs.

The Club de Natación Marbella started in 2002 with the aim of promoting swimming and water polo. Its best-known member is Alejandro Trujillo, who often reaches the finals in the 100 metres free style and butterfly in the Spanish Championships.

Three years ago the club took a step forward and included young people with disabilities among its members, and it has now won nationwide acclaim for its pupils’ success. With paratriathlete Javier Mérida as their main sponsor - he is an open water swimmer who has crossed the Beagle Channel and swum around Manhattan island - more people have become aware of this section of the club, which now has 20 members.

People have joined the club from other parts of the province. It now has disabled swimmers aged between 12 and 50 from San Pedro, Estepona, Antequera, Benalmádena and Torremolinos. The members visit schools, special education facilities and centres for the disabled such as Aspandem, and give talks about the benefits of integration. Whenever a small group of swimmers is formed, they are given a timetable and a qualified trainer. Alberto Álvarez, the technical director and trainer, works out the schedules, and Tony Labrador and Jorge Otalecu are also involved with organising.

Self-esteem and achievement

To give an example of their remarkable performance, in March the club won 34 medals at the Spanish swimming championships organised by FEDDI, the Sports Federation for People with Intellectual Disabilities, and came fourth overall. In fact, in three years they have won more than 160 medals. They don’t keep the awards, but they understand that it gets them coverage in the media, especially those among them who are hoping to take part in the Paralympic Games in the future. For them, what is important is that sport, and swimming in particular, is a very good way to raise awareness of the potential of people with disabilities.

“It facilitates social integration, self-esteem, a sense of achievement, effort, discipline and, obviously, there is a noticeable physical improvement,” says Maite Caño, mother of one of the most outstanding swimmers, Jorge Otalecu.

The main names among this group are Jorge Otalecu, Manuel Montoya, Julia Fernández, Javier Labrador and Marc Bredoux, who are considered high-performance athletes by the Junta de Andalucía. Jorge has broken barriers in international tournaments. Last November, in Livorno (Italy), he won five golds in the DSISO (Downs Syndrome Organisation) European Swimming Championship. He also made the headlines after achieving five continental records (in 50, 100, 200 and 400 metres freestyle and 50 metres butterfly). His next challenge is to try to earn a place to compete among the best in the World Championships in Florence.

Jorge Otalecu is definitely an all-rounder. Recent Spanish duathlon champion in category TR17 (intellectual disability), Spanish runner-up in 400 metres freestyle and in January he won a bronze at the Spanish Alpine skiing championship in Huesca. Javier Labrador and Julia Fernández have been part of the Andalusian team who competed in the children’s Nationals with great success. They received extra merit for the coordination of their relay team, and Otalecu, Labrador, Montoya and Francisco Wert did well in the Spanish 4x100 and 4x50 freestyle.

There are always some swimmers who perform better than others in competitions, but the prize for integration and coexistence goes to all the other members as well: Juan Berdaguer, Tadgh Robert, Juan Elicegui, Joaquín Amado, Maxi Carlen, Fares Jandalí, Álvaro Ramos, Bruno Vaccari, Nicolás Lasso, David Carmona, Richard Castillo, Antonio López and José Javier Díaz.

For this door to integration through swimming, which is unique in Malaga province, to remain open the administrations need to be more aware of its requirements, and it also needs sponsors. Club Natación Marbella is asking the council to make more swimming lanes available for its members in the municipal pool, although it is already crowded, and hopes that private sponsors will come forward to help meet the costs of participating in different competitions.