To many people, Lizzie Slack is known as the elite para-swimmer, beating personal best after personal best on a global stage. However, for a select few, Lizzie is known more personally as a coach, speech pathologist, cerebral palsy advocate, colleague and friend. No matter her role, Lizzie is recognised as an icon transforming the lives of many, one splash at a time.
Whilst finishing her speech pathology degree, Lizzie applied for a volunteer position at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA), with the sole purpose of wanting to help and support people.
Being a professional swimmer and coach herself, volunteering in the CPA swim squad ‘Allambie Seals’, fitted seamlessly into her lifestyle. What began as a side passion soon became more permanent as Lizzie was offered the role of senior coach for the Allambie swim program. Since then, she hasn’t looked back.
“Cerebral Palsy Alliance has impacted me in terms of what I thought my career path would look like when I finished Uni. I thought I would have stopped coaching, finished doing all my other side jobs and gone straight into being a full-time speech pathologist. However, because I have been coaching these amazing athletes, I’ve not being able to let go."
Lizzie has been an integral part of CPA Allambie’s swim squad success, especially more recently, leading 5 swim camps across rural NSW in partnership with Swimming Australia. As part of a research grant from ‘Move it OZ’, the camps in Canberra, Orange, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour and Sydney aim to encourage and support people with a disability to enjoy swimming no matter their fitness and sporting capabilities.
“The camps have had a big impact on the swimmers from the rural areas. People just don't have access to this kind of thing, and for many, the camps are the first time these athletes have been involved in something where there's people with similar abilities, the chance to make friends and have fun. It's just been amazing to see the smile on people's faces.”
Lizzie’s aspirations to become a swim coach formed from her own lived experience of meeting a trainer that treated her no different to every other athlete. Lizzie has a genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which affects her joint mobility. Swimming has provided Lizzie with a lot in terms of her health, confidence and ability both in and out of the pool. Discovering a swim coach that utilised her strengths in the water helped guide Lizzie into her role today, showing young athletes their potential and seeing them become more confident in themselves.
“I initially started coaching because it fit into my lifestyle, but now I love giving back to the sport that gave me so much. I think because I have a disability myself, I have a unique perspective in relating to my swimmers, seeing past their limitations, and showing them what pathways are available to them.”
With the help of her team at CPA and the supportive community of families and friends, Lizzie is hopeful for the positive impact swimming will continue to have on the cerebral palsy community and is excited about its future growth.
“I'm excited to see it grow and to see more of our kids getting involved – and not necessarily from a competitive point of view, but just for the enjoyment of swimming.”
For Lizzie, there have been many career highlights, however, she recognises her role with the CPA swim squad as one that stands out.
“Our swim program is the highlight of many of our weeks. We’ve built an awesome community where the athletes and parents are friends, and the coaches are so supportive of one another. It's very different to any other program. I do it because I love it and that’s why I’m still here.”
Lizzie’s message to any aspiring coaches is:
“Don’t be scared of people’s disabilities. Work with them, talk to them, work with their abilities and see what they can do rather than worrying about what they can’t do – and above all just enjoy it.”