Mary, 57, is a full-time nurse from Renmore, Co. Galway who set-up the Octopus Swimming Club 34 years ago in 1981.
For the past three decades, Mary has given her time and energy voluntarily to support and encourage people with disabilities to be ‘water free’.
Mary introduced the ‘Halliwick’ concept which means swimmers are taught on a one-to-one basis so they can gain independence in the water. The technique means no buoyancy aids are used to help disabled swimmers. This was the first club of its kind in Ireland and now other clubs are following uit due to the revolutionary and visionary idea Mary nurtured.
She said: “I get a great thrill and a sense of achievement when I see them [the swimmers] progressing. I have an instinct to hold people with severe disabilities in my hands. If somebody comes to me with a severe stroke or an amputated leg, I see the potential in them.”
She added: “If someone is stuck in a wheelchair all day, it is great to see their reaction when you put them in the water and see their body move and be free! And when somebody is completely relaxed, they can oat and eventually, they can move and swim.
“Somebody might only be able to wiggle an arm but to me, they’re swimming.”
Club volunteer Fiona Donovan, who nominated Mary, said: “Mary sees the potential in everyone and has a very caring and nurturing nature that enables her to connect and communicate with people, especially those with non-verbal skills.”
“Mary has given the gift of swimming to so many people with physical disabilities. She’s incredible in seeing the potential in everyone. She is a true sporting champion.”