Water Babies Honour Eleven Little Heroes at 2020 Awards
Remarkable Stories Of How Swimming & Spending Time In Water Helps Children Across Ireland
Water Babies, Ireland’s leading baby and toddler swimming school, is thrilled to announce that eleven inspiring children from around Ireland have been honoured at their annual Water Babies Little Heroes awards ceremony at Junction 6 in Blanchardstown, Dublin today.
Water Babies, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in Ireland last year, has revealed more remarkable stories of how swimming and spending time in water has helped babies and toddlers and assisted them overcome health issues, boosted their development and generally improved their lives and the lives of their family. Despite being challenged by accidents, serious illness and special needs, many of Water Babies Little Heroes have shown an incredible amount of strength and bravery considering their early years.
Water Babies Little Heroes winners for 2020 are Hannah McGinn – Dundalk (2 years 6 months), Blu-Levi Harris – Finglas (1 year 2 months), Maisie Rose McDonnell – Maynooth (13 months), Leon Merriman – Donaghmede (1 year 8 months), Andrea French – Wexford (3 years 6 months), Matthew Smith – Perrystown, Dublin 12 (4.5 years), Céilí Byrne – Naas (2years 10 months), Sean Kelly – Galway (4 years), James MacNeill – Killiney (4 years 6 months), Ciara Gannon (1 year 9 months) – Leopardstown and Aria Geary (1 year 8 months) Kilkenny.
Carol McNally from Water Babies said “We are thrilled to see so many children benefitting from their time in our classes and being in the water. We all know that swimming is good for our physical health. It keeps our heart rate up, builds endurance and muscle strength. And it gets our little ones’ limbs moving, so that they have a little workout helping to improve sleep quality and patterns. Introducing a baby to the pool can do wonders for their growth. That’s because all the skills that Water Babies teach in the water are structured to align with their key development milestones. And not just their physical ones, but their cognitive ones too” added Carol.
Water Babies classes are available across Ireland in Dublin, Meath, Kildare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Galway, Mayo, Clare, Sligo, Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny. To find your nearest class, visit www.waterbabies.ie
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Water Babies Little Heroes Stories
Hannah McGinn – Dundalk (2 years 6 months)
Hannah McGinn, who has been attending Water Babies classes since she was three months old has been through a lot this last year. Hannah learned that her Mammy was expecting twins early in 2019 and because the babies arrived early at just 24 weeks, she was separated from her Mum for 6 weeks after their birth. She met her brother and sister when they were first born however sadly she said goodbye to her little sister after a few days and she has only seen her baby brother Cathal a handful of times over the last 6 months as he is an inpatient in Temple Street hospital.
Throughout all of the chaos at home, the one thing that remained constant was her swimming lessons on a Sunday in Bettystown. In her Mum Jennifer’s absence, Daddy took over swimming and Hannah has become a strong and independent little 2.5 year old with an excellent understanding of the world around her. Hannah has toilet trained herself and learned how to sleep on her own in her own bed. Mum Jennifer McGinn said “I honestly believe that she has learned a huge amount of this from her swimming lessons. Hannah packs her own swimming bag the night before and is enjoying being back in the pool after her Christmas break.”
Blu-Levi Harris- Finglas (1 year 2 months)
Blu-Levi started swimming at Water babies in Junction 6 in September 2019 just before she turned one. Before she started, Blu-Levi wasn’t a big fan of water or being around other young children and their mammies so her Mum Hannah decided to introduce her to Water Babies as it would be good for her socialisation. Initially there were a few tears but as the weeks went by, she enjoyed being in the water and became confident doing the different tasks in her classes and now loves blowing bubbles in the water.
Blu-Levi surprised her Mum with great underwater pictures from her photoshoot and now goes to class every week showing off all her new tricks. Hannah commented “Not only has Blu-Levi been doing well at her swimming she has also brought her skills home and does these tricks in the bath. Hannah said “I’m so proud of Blu-Levi and amazed that at 15 months she can hold on to the wall herself. It’s just so good seen your baby so happy playing around and enjoying her swimming”
Maisie Rose McDonnell – Maynooth (13 months)
Maisie Rose’s parents were quite nervous about bringing her swimming at such a young age however it’s been worth it as the rewards and improvement in her social and developmental skills have been outstanding. Maisie Rose’s Mum said “Water Babies has become a weekly family event for us as a new family and we have made some lovely friends along the way. Maisie Rose loves going to Clayton Liffey Valley every Saturday for her swim. She is bouncing with excitement when she sees the water and all the other babies. She is a great wee kicker and classes are great fun for her. We think she is a Water Babies little hero as she is a wee star always on our eyes.”
Leon Merriman – Donaghmede (1 year 8 months)
Little Hero Leon joined Water Babies in September 2018 when he 4 months old and he loved it from day one. Mum Sharon credits Water Babies for his development and helping him walk so early as he started walking at eight and half months and was singing/babbling all the water babies songs at about 10 and half months. Water Babies classes also give Mum and son time to bond.
In April 2019 just before his 1st birthday, Leon caught his finger in a door by accident which resulted in a fracture that required surgery. Unfortunately, Leon had to take seven weeks off swimming and his mum Sharon was devastated for him as he loves his Water Babies classes. Sharon said “He missed it so much and every time we drove passed St Michael House pool, he would say, “Splish splash” and sing “hello how are you”. Eventually after a few months Leon’s finger recovered and Sharon believes his Water Babies classes have really helped with his recovery and regaining his confidence. He’s fearless in the pool and has so much fun. Water babies has hugely helped in his development and recovery from his fractured finger.
Andrea French – Wexford ( 3 years 6 months)
Andrea French started Water Babies at the Maldron Hotel in Wexford when she was 12 weeks old, following in the splashes of her older sister Isabel who also attended classes. Andrea loved the water and progressed with all the other little boys and girls. When the family went to Portugal on holidays Andrea was a 18 months old and the difference between her and other children her age around the pool was amazing. Caroline said “I knew Water Babies made all the difference.”
However when Andrea was two and a half years old things changed – she got the wobbles! She no longer wanted to go swimming and if she did, she refused to do what the teacher was asking even though she was capable and knew how to do it. Caroline said “She hung onto our necks for dear life. We were getting so frustrated, attending each week and Andrea not wanting to do anything and even considered giving up. I never experienced this with my other daughter. The fear Andrea must have had! But the wobbles continued I think for almost 3 terms. And then just like that Andrea was a different child in the water. Andrea is now enjoying the swimming and her parents are now more relaxed.
Matthew Smith – Perrystown, Dublin 12 (4.5 years)
Little Hero Matthew joined Water Babies in 2016 when he was 6 months old. He loved swimming from the very start however his first chapter was cut short due to him catching pneumonia. He quickly deteriorated after his diagnosis and ending up in ICU with a low chance of survival. The pneumonia infection had spread to outside his lungs (empyema) causing one of his lungs to collapse and the other was at high risk. Matthew underwent multiple surgeries including chest drains (thoracostomy) which was unsuccessful and then open chest surgery (thoracotomy) was required to remove the infection. Matthew was very weak after this and spent several days in ICU, but getting stronger each day. Over the next year he contracted pneumonia a total of 5 times each resulting in further weeks in hospital.
Despite Matthews recurring pneumonia Matthews’s parents were eager for him to return to water babies to help strengthen his lungs. Mum Louise Smith said “We are very grateful to Water Babies as we believe swimming has helped him as he hasn’t suffered from pneumonia since April 2017.
Thankfully Matthew is now a perfectly healthy four and a half years old who is in Chapter 16 with Siobhan at Butterfield Wellness Clinic in Rathfarnham. Matthew is now very happy and comfortable in the water swimming widths of the pool at ease.
Céilí Byrne – Naas (2 years 10 months)
Little Hero Céilí Byrne has a rare syndrome which causes her to have a serious heart condition, low muscle tone and bilateral hearing loss. However Céilí is a little warrior princess. She is almost 3 years old and has faced many challenges since she was born. Céilí had to stay in hospital for four months after she was born. She is closely monitored by cardiologists in Crumlin hospital, Dublin and great Ormond street hospital, London so she has to attend hospital a lot. Her low muscle tone means walking was a tough skill for her to learn and her hearing loss means that she finds it difficult to communicate.
Mum Sinead Keogh said “Our little princess has always loved water and joining Water Babies has made her stronger in many ways. The exercises at Water Babies have helped her build her muscles and it amazes us all to see that she now has the strength and agility to be able to climb onto a floating island, walk across it and jump into the water!
Sinead said “Our teacher Siobhan always makes an extra effort to communicate with Céilí using signs, gestures and pictures because she knows Céilí can’t hear very much without her hearing aids in the pool. We really appreciate this as it has helped Céilí learn how to participate in group activities. The water has a very calming effect on Céilí and she often presses her face to mine during the class so that she can hear me singing the songs. And she has a big smile on her face for the whole class which is just the icing on the cake for us!”
Sean Kelly – Galway (4 years)
Sean Kelly was born in December 2016 with Down Syndrome and started swimming with Water Babies at Shearwater Hotel Ballinasloe in August 2017. Mum Nuala said “We started chapter one then, with the intention of doing just one or two chapters and are now nearly finished Chapter 10 and Sean just loves the pool. It is fantastic for his muscles and developmental both physically and socially and I can see the improvements it has brought to him over the past two and a half years of swimming and the life skills he is learning at such a young age is great. The excitement and happiness on his face in the pool is fantastic to see and also the friendships we have made during his Water Babies journey is wonderful. Sean is definitely a splash happy water babies little dude!”
James MacNeill – Killiney (4 years 6 months)
Water Babies teacher Caoimh Bruton nominated James MacNeill who swims with her at Tullyvale, Loughlinstown. James started Water Babies at seven weeks old, three weeks after coming out of intensive care. He was blind and very tiny, and seriously unwell and Water Babies was one of the nicest things we had to do, and very normal at a very not normal time.
He was ultimately diagnosed at age two with epilepsy arising from his early troubles. He has had seizures in the pool, side effects from medication and some serious wobbles. But he has turned up without a break to persist with his swimming and he now has huge confidence and enjoyment from it. All along he has had patience and understanding from his teachers – and great fun! His favourite thing is surfing and swimming underwater.
James is now going into his final term at Water Babies. Caoimh has been teaching James since he started Water Babies classes 4 years ago, firstly at the pool in Blackrock and then at Tullyvale so he’s been swimming with her a long time. He is an amazing little swimmer now, flying along, quite happily with very proud parents watching from outside the pool as he swims on his own.
Caoimh said “James is such a happy little boy with the most gorgeous smile. He’s always full of chats and I’m lucky to have him in my classes. James is very deserving of our little hero award.”
Ciara Gannon – Leopardstown (1 year 9 Months)
Water Babies teacher Siobhan Fitzgerald nominated Ciara Gannon who swims with her in Butterfield. Ciara was born with CHARGE syndrome and is Deafblind and has a PEG tube for feeding. When she started the classes was very stiff and rigid in the water but she is now much more relaxed and at ease at her Water Babies class. Ciara is now pointing at the toys and reacting to them and enjoying the class.
She’s also interacting with her teacher and other babies in the swimming pool so it has definitely had a positive impact on her social skills. Mum Sarah Gannon said “Ciara was initially very cautious without her glasses and hearing aids in the pool but once she was familiar with the songs, the water and movement she was much more relaxed. It’s great to see her grow and develop through baby swimming”.
Aria Neary – Kilkenny (1 year 8 months)
Little Hero Aria Near was diagnosed with epilepsy and chromosome deletion in November 2018 when she was just 6 months old. Despite many hospital visits, Aria Neary swims every Wednesday with Water Babies in Kilkenny and has come on leaps and bounds since starting swimming. She had been in physiotherapy since before her diagnosis however swimming has made a HUGE difference.
Denise said “Both her physiotherapist and I agree that swimming has helped her so much. She has smashed all the development goals set for her and has done things earlier than expected. I truly believe Water Babies has been a very big part in that. Not only has Water Babies been great for Aria physically, it has helped both her and myself so much more beyond that. It’s the one half an hour during the week where I find I can relax, bond have fun while she is also learning how to swim and about water safety!”
Mum Denise added “I didn’t realise how important swimming would be for her and just how much it would help her. Aria is in early intervention and swimming with water babies has definitely helped her loads with her physio therapy, she actually done things quicker than we thought she would and I definitely think a huge part of that is down to her doing swimming every week. Being with the other kids in the group has definitely helped her socially as well, she is more confident and interacting a lot more. Aria has a speech delay and doesn’t have a lot of words but she loves music and hearing the songs every week, she is now copying them, not so much saying the words but she’s getting the hang of it. Swimming with Water babies has definitely been a highlight in what has been a tough year and a half.
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