Meet Ryan Crouch, a Paralympic swimmer, swim coach and MySwimPro Ambassador living in Essex, England. In this guest blog post, Ryan shares his lifelong swimming journey, which has taken him around the globe to the world’s biggest competitions, and taught him a lot about himself along the way.
I have been swimming nearly all my life. I’m 28 now, and I started at 5 years old.
At age 4 I was diagnosed with mild Cerebral Palsy, which affects the right side of my body. Doctors recommended swimming as my main form of exercise to keep me healthy and to keep my disability from getting worse in the future.
I started racing at age 11, and competed in my first national Para swimming championships in 2005.
As the years progressed, I competed nationally, but not without any challenges. After missing out on the 2012 Paralympic Games in London as an 18-year-old, I had a few health setbacks. I wanted to prove myself to people, and show that I could be somebody in the world of Paralympic swimming.
Related: Watch Our Interview with 6-Time Para Swimming Medalist McKenzie Coan
I overworked my body in the gym, and subsequently had seizures that set me back for months. I will never forget the day that a hospital consultant told me I could never swim again.
Between 2012 and 2014, it was difficult to find the perfect balance between health and training, but I managed! I started to swim personal bests again, and broke my first two British Records. But that excitement was short lived…I had two more seizures.
This time, I decided to take a break from swimming. But my retirement didn’t last long.
Based on my performances the previous year, Cerebral Palsy Sport asked me to be part of their CP World Games. I jumped at the chance, and made a decision that would change my swimming career forever: I became my own coach.
Little did I know that 12 months later, I would qualify for my first Paralympic Games.
My Solo Training
I trained extremely hard in the pool. I turned up at the CP World Games in 2015, and won gold in both of my events.
I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to keep swimming, and keep coaching myself. I planned and completed my own training plans during public pool time for 14 months. I combined my knowledge and experience as swim coach with a huge desire to achieve the ‘impossible’.
Related: Watch Interview with 23-Time Para Swimming Medalist Jessica Long
The MySwimPro app has been a great resource for my solo training. The app helps me plan my own training sessions that suit me and my goals, and gives me a great overview of how my training is progressing. The library of personalized Workouts, Training Plans and Analytics help me stay focused and motivated.
Achieving My Paralympic Dream
In April 2016, my dreams became reality. In the 50-meter freestyle, I broke the British Record and qualified for my first Paralympic Games. It turns out the impossible wasn’t so far out of my reach!
With myself as my swimming coach and my family as my backbone, we achieved something greater than I could have ever imagined.
In August 2016, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro with ParalympicsGB. My parents got to come to Rio and watch me compete on the world stage.
Related: Watch Interview with Para Swimming Medalist Lizzi Smith
I raced in the 100-meter freestyle and placed 13th in the world. But the day after was my big event: The 50-meter freestyle. In the 50, I won my heat and qualified for my first ever Paralympic final. I finished 8th in the final and got to compete in front of 18,000 people.
This was by far one of the best days of my life, and I hope that I can inspire the next generation of swimmers to achieve the impossible, even without a swimming coach.
I have competed nationally and internationally since 2016, and am still coaching myself in addition to my job as a swim coach.
Related: Jamal Hill’s Journey to Paralympic Medalist
I was lucky enough to coach the British Armed Forces Swim Team at the 2014 Invictus Games, and I continue to coach various squads at the club I currently work at.
Throughout this time I have also worked as a motivational speaker. It has always been a dream of mine to have a positive influence on others.
As I look to the future, my swimming career seems a bit uncertain. In February 2022, the International Paralympic Committee changed the category that I compete in, which completely derailed my dream to compete in the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
I was focused on the 100 breaststroke, and that race is not an event in my new classification.
After an extremely tough season, it is difficult to guess what the future holds in store for me in competitive swimming. However, a huge goal of mine is to positively influence swimmers around the world by inspiring them with my story, with my achievements and by showing people that they can still do great things without necessarily having a swim coach that is poolside.
Back when I started swimming as a child, I don’t think I ever expected that I’d be a Paralympian, but I’m so grateful to have chosen this path and to be here, still swimming, more than 20 years later.
I hope my journey inspires others to work hard and achieve the impossible. You never know what you could be capable of unless you try.
Follow Ryan’s swimming journey on Instagram at @selfcoached_swimmer. Use code Ryan20 to save 20% on a MySwimPro Coach subscription!