Judy Bonning and her husband John believe learning to swim is “the gift for life”. Together they run the Billabong Swim School in Tweed Heads and they are both big believers that anything is possible and that you can teach anyone to swim with the right adaptations.

Judy feels so lucky she has found her “niche in life”. She has had a passion for teaching swimming and has been doing this since she was 15 years old. She trained as a PE teacher but felt being a swimming instructor was really her calling.

She now welcomes anyone to come along to her swim schools at Tweed or Casuarina Beach to chat about supporting individual needs.

Judy has set her school up as a leader in the area. She has invited guest speakers to talk to parents about supporting “highly sensitive students” and working with “gifted students”.

Judy has a willingness and openness to work with all members of the family.

“We want families to know they are not alone, we make everybody feel as though they belong,” she said. “We provide a support system in the most unexpected setting.”

Billabong Swim school runs a specialised program called ‘Rainbow Fish’. These are one-on-one lessons offered at half the price of a regular private lesson to parents of children who find it impossible to be mainstreamed.

“As a swim teacher we see kids with different abilities and we reassure parents to focus on the abilities and the strengths of their child,” Judy said.

Swim teachers sometimes become aware of certain differences some kids have and Judy acknowledges it is not her place to make a diagnosis, although she will suggest to parents that they seek some support through a pediatrician or other medical professional.

Judy is proud of their participation in research by Professor Robyn Jorgensen from Griffith University, which identified significant difference for children involved in the Early Years Swimming Project and their developmental milestones. Some children were up to 16-18 months ahead in some areas. Judy said she knew young swimmers were more advanced, but she was truly amazed by the evidence.

Judy said she was delighted to be nominated and win the Belonging Award at the Tweed Shire Access and Inclusion Awards 2016.

“We try to include everybody, but to be acknowledged for it is really special. As a business this is what we should all be doing,” she said.


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