SportsAid is aiming to shine a spotlight on the next generation of household names across Great Britain….your local heroes! Our blog series, entitled ‘Inside My World’, will look to offer you an insight into the lives of the country’s most talented young athletes while also offering them the platform to express themselves to a wider audience.
This time....it's Mwaba Mkwasa, 14, from Hethersett in Norfolk. She is a para swimmer, currently supported by the Girdlers’ Company Charitable Trust through SportsAid, who competes on the Swim England Para-Swimming Talent Squad. Her long-term dream is to represent ParalympicsGB at multiple Paralympic Games - starting in Paris in four years’ time!
Here, Mwaba takes you into her world as she blogs about the importance of having para swimming in her life, how her parents and coaches kept driving her on to succeed, striking the right balance with her education and her passion for K-pop and K-drama.
“I started swimming when I was four at Norwich Swan Swimming Club, but when I was seven I had a car accident so had to get my left arm amputated. I took a year off and returned to the same club when I was eight, but didn’t do any club galas as I knew I’d be at a disadvantage. But my coaches kept encouraging me to compete as they thought I’d do really well, while my parents, Brian and Mukupa, also kept encouraging me to continue swimming.
“I wanted to stop at that time, but I started doing club galas and then went to my first regional tournament when I was 12. In that same year, I got talent-spotted and went on to the Swim England National Foundation Level. Before my accident I liked gymnastics a lot more than swimming, so was really upset I couldn’t go back to doing that. I didn’t really want to do swimming but there wasn’t really any other sport that I liked.
“I went to my first National Championships the same year I got talent-spotted, and then my first international meet in Glasgow in 2019, which was a big deal. I got disqualified in two of my events but other than that it was a really good experience! It was great to race against people from lots of different areas. Swimming has made me achieve things that I never really thought I’d be able to achieve - I never dreamed of competing at national and international events when I first returned after the accident.
“It’s given me things to work towards, and without it I wouldn’t have any goals in life. It’s one of the things I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it - one of my biggest goals is to get to the Paralympic Games, and that’s one of the only things I really want in life, to get really far in swimming. I can’t really imagine life without it - in lockdown when pools weren’t open, I didn’t know what to do as I had nothing to work towards or look forward to. It was quite hard at times.
“My parents have helped me a lot - when I really wanted to quit swimming, they kept telling me ‘no, you can do this’, and they still say that to this day. I don’t think I’d have got this far without their support. I think I’ve done quite a good job at balancing my education and training - my school, Notre Dame High School, is understanding when I have a big competition, so it’s quite good.
“It’s important for athletes to have a broad interest in things - if you just focus on swimming and you have nothing else to fall back on, that can affect your mental health. If things aren’t going well I always have other things I can focus and improve on, like my schoolwork. And if schoolwork’s not going well, I always have swimming, so it’s a healthy balance.
“Away from the pool, K-pop (Korean pop music) is quite a big thing among us teenagers - it’s very upbeat and I find it interesting. It’s very different to normal pop because everyone can sing, dance, rap and do almost everything. I find that inspirational because of how hard they have to work - that’s something that motivates me to work hard in the things that I love, because of how hard they’ve worked in the thing they love and are passionate about.
“It’s the same in K-drama - it's very interesting to watch. I listen and watch them both a lot in my spare time. My favourite K-pop group is BTS, and I often listen to them on the way to competitions. I’m a Catholic and we try to go to church every Sunday when we can. Choir singing is one of my out-of-school hobbies - I enjoy it because there are other people from different schools who do it, so it’s given me a chance to make more friends. It’s another thing I can do where I don’t have to think about swimming if I’m stressed about it, or school if I’m stressed about that either.
“My next goal is to get onto the British Academy squad because that will help me reach my end goal, which is to hopefully qualify for the 2024 Paralympic Games. That’s my ambition over the next four years - it would be the best thing to happen to me in my entire life if I represented ParalympicsGB at the Games! It would be amazing because all these years of hard work would have paid off and I would have achieved something really big.
“That would make me really proud of myself, as well as my parents and family. It would be an amazing experience, while in the shorter-term I want to work my way up the British rankings up towards the top 10. Further ahead, competing in multiple Paralympic Games would be a dream come true!”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes can continue receiving the backing they rely on. Find out more about how you can support the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future!