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UQ Sport Learn-to-Swim Coach Desleigh Jones has been recognised as AUSTSWIM’s Queensland Teacher of the Year in the Access and Inclusion Category.

We sat down with Desleigh to hear her story, and there was only one moment in our conversation where she fell silent – during her retelling of a day in May 2015 when she was walking across the Victoria Bridge and saw an unfortunate scene unfolding in the river below.

“I completed my Royal Life Saving Bronze Medallion that year. Within a couple of months of that, I helped in a rescue in the Brisbane River. I got a bravery award for my part in the rescue but more importantly, I found my passion for water safety.”

What Desleigh is quiet about is the extent of that rescue. A credit to her courage, she was inducted into Australia’s bravest, receiving Commendation of Brave Conduct in Australia’s official honours system;  A Pride of Australia Award and the Surf Life Saving Rescue of the Month and SLSA Meritorious Award. The memory of the Brisbane River’s current, keeping the person’s head above water until a passing CityCat could be hailed, will stick with Desleigh for the rest of her life.

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UQ Sport Learn-to-Swim Coach Desleigh Jones accepting her AUSTSWIM Queensland Teacher of the Year in the Access and Inclusion Category award.

“I understand what a drowning person looks like now. They are normal everyday people (just like you or I) who find themselves in trouble.   They’re not flailing and are mostly silent. They come up for a few seconds and then they’re under. It’s that background that makes me so passionate.” Everybody can be safe and enjoy being in and around water.

Today, this experience is interlaced in Desleigh’s lessons, teaching her students the real-world application of what they’re learning in the safety of the UQ Sport Aquatic Centre. In the UQ Infants classes, students and parents are taught how to hold on to the side of the pool, Desleigh insists they’re hanging on to rocks at the side of a fast-paced river.

She dived headfirst into the UQ Sport Can Swim program, finding her lessons both rewarding and stimulating. “Everybody is unique. I focus on the individual capabilities and areas of development wherever they are in their swimming journey and what their personal aspirations are. Every student has different physical and cognitive capabilities and their own individual challenges to overcome.  And I mean everyone.  We are all different and we can all succeed.

“I love sharing my love for water and seeing individuals change and grow in confidence and skills.  Individuals (and Carers) often come with preconceived limitations which I love seeing dissolved.    We work hard together (and laugh a lot) to achieve individual goals.  And that is why every teacher at UQ aquatic love our sessions.  We provide the excellent facilities and safe environment and magic happens. ‘I can’t’ is turned into ‘I can’?”

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Assistant Learn-to-Swim Coach Caitlin Henderson, who nominated Desleigh for the award.

Colleague and Assistant Learn-to-Swim Coordinator Caitlin Henderson nominated Desleigh for the AUSTSWIM award, inspired by a comment from a parent. “They emailed me to say Desleigh teaching her son about water safety and strokes was the highlight of the year for the family. Every single parent who has Desleigh as an instructor to their children is so thankful for her approach to learning.”

Desleigh insists she has her students to thank for her unique style of teaching. “Every student I have come in contact with has taught me something and they leave a bit of themselves with me.  I never forget them.  This in turn helps me continually evolve and develop. I am very grateful.

“I never use to listen very well I don’t think. But now I listen to students with everything I have.  It is how we apply the UQ Aquatic program to students which makes a difference.   Now, I see every student as being an individual with unique ever-changing aspirations.   That’s how everybody deserves to be treated.  As special.”

Desleigh insists her AUSTSWIM award is a testament to the entire UQ Sport Aquatic Centre team, a support network like nowhere else she’s worked. “The UQ Sport program is excellent. Our facilities here are like nowhere else I’ve seen. We can really accommodate for all levels of swimming and as such a wide range of individuals enjoy the water safely at UQ.  We can teach anybody!”

Desleigh has seen up close what near drowning looks like, and with the support of the Aquatic Centre team, will continue to drive her positive water safety message.