Giusy Barraco’s Interview
Giusy Barraco is an Italian champion of Paralympic swimming, author of the first place in 50 metres style and third place overall in the 50 metres back S3 category at the Italian Paralympic Winter Championships in Naples 2015. She is the blue pride that told us how swimming has become from rehabilitative activity a fundamental moment of one’s life. At the age of thirteen she was diagnosed with the Charcot Marie Tooth, a sensory-motor polyneuropathy that causes a weakening of the muscles resulting from the degeneration of motor nerve fibers (source: www.aicmt.org). “Swimming has changed my life – Giusy tells us – when I was in water I didn’t suffer a disability any longer and as instead totally capable, especially because felt detached from the wheelchair. I started swimming to challenge myself, and I can’t seem to be stopped! ”
When and why did you start swimming?
I started for therapeutic purposes. At first I was bored, I always did the same exercises and only afterwards the passion for this sport has grown. When I got the first medals it seemed like an unattainable goal, I thought my body could not do anything anymore with my disability. Swimming has given birth to a new Giusy: combative, that fights her own fights. Because we are all different but also the same, with the same dreams and the same objectives.
In your experience, have you encountered more cultural resistance or architectural barriers in order to practice swimming?
Both, unfortunately in my city sport for people with disabilities is not taken into much consideration and, as a result, sports facilities are often not equipped to welcome a person with disabilities. In my city, Marsala, there was no company affiliated with FINP and in the structure where I started to swim, for example, the bathrooms were not accessible. As for sports club, mine was considered a rehabilitation activity and required high expenses. Unfortunately, I could not afford those and I had to ask for help, even financially, from friends and associations. It is thanks to them if I managed to get to the first race. In general, there is still a mentality in which we have to ask for help ourselves: I had to show that it was not a whim – I can do everything, even in a wheelchair – but the wheelchair can limit me in certain things, but where is will there is a way. For me it was hard to show my skills and even today people in wheelchair don’t have it easy.
What kind of help do you need when you train?
I need an assistant to help me undress and take a shower. A staff member is enough, no specific professional figure is required. I also need a chair to help me get in the water. Unfortunately, in the pool where I train now there’s no such chair and I have to ask help from the staff for this as well. There was a moment, last year, when I had to stop training because they closed the Marsala’s pool. For me it was very difficult having to travel to Trapani, where I could train, and I stopped training altogether. My illness degenerated, because I could not move anymore, so the doctors urged me to start swimming again. For me swimming is not just therapy, it’s my life: through swimming I started walking in the water, which to me was the greatest joy. When in water, I feel I can run, but instead of my legs I can use my arms.
Which aids are available at the facility where you train?
In the provincial pool of Trapani, where I train now, there is no chair, while in the pool of Marsala there was a chair to get into the water, but there was a problem with the shower: it was not accessible and I could only move thanks to the people who helped me. A bathroom must be accessible for all, because accessibility means autonomy and sport is for everyone.
To find out how Giusy’s company was organized with the aim of improving the accessibility of facilities, we asked some questions to Giuseppe Cipolla, Vice-President of the Aquarius Sports Association.
How many athletes with disabilities are registered or train with your association?
We have 5 members, including Giusy, but in the structure where we train, there are 13 other athletes with disabilities. These guys have several difficulties: motor, but above all cognitive and relational. Mostly they are young, ranging from 12 year-olds up to 30 – 35.
Does your sports club own the facilities where athletes train? If this is not the case, has it been difficult for your association to find facilities that are accessible to athletes with disabilities?
No, our sporting society does not own the facilities. We manage two implants: one that resides in the municipality of Erice and the other in the municipality of Trapani. The Erice implant, which is owned by the former province, has a 25 metres deep pool and one that is 1,45 metres deep; in Trapani, owned by the municipality, there is a 33 x 21 m deep pool and 2 m deep one. It was not difficult to find accessible facilities because in both structures there are passages for people with disabilities. Among other things, from the road to the structure the path is quite easy, there are no architectural barriers. In both structures there is a sliding edge of the pool. The only drawback that can be highlighted in both structures is that they do not have an elevator to be able to immerge directly in the water in case there are swimmers physically unable to do so. Usually the instructor or the staff that takes care of the normal games and educational activities, offers to help these users, so from the point of view of attendance of the implant there were no major difficulties. We try to make the facilities accessible as much as possible.
How much does it cost for the owner of a sports facility for changes to make the structure accessible to people with motor disabilities?
An elevator, about 5,000 euros may already be sufficient to be able to allocate it in both structures. Not much then. Only this would be needed.
Are there any public or private incentives for this type of intervention? If yes, how can you request them?
We tried to participate in a call of the Inail to access funds to purchase this equipment, but it was reserved to people with disabilities at work and therefore it was not possible to follow this solution. It seemed that the company had to intervene directly for the purchase of these tools, or resort to donations for the purchase of these vehicles and aids that makes it even more difficult.
In your knowledge, are sports activities sided by rehabilitative activities in this system? From a purely economic point of view, is it advantageous to carryi out these changes to make the facility accessible?
Yes, you can very well diversify the activity in a pool organizing the time schedule and eventually you can make the facility usable for rehabilitation, as we do. We are not affiliated with sanitary structures but with our instructors we encourage disabled people into motor activities during working hours. We try to beneft from the pool as much as possible by optimizing the time n water ratio with the time available. Moreover, sometimes, when is possible, we integrate disabled people with able-bodied groups, using sport as a vehicle for integration.