Veteran Swim Coach Gets National Honour for Work with Paraplegic Athletes

Photo: Contributed Veteran swim coach, John Lopez, will receive the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer on National Heroes Day for his contribution to the welfare of persons with disabilities in relation to paraplegic sports in Jamaica.

Story Highlights

  • Veteran swim coach, John Lopez, who has trained some of Jamaicans greatest Paralympians, is being honoured by the Government of Jamaica for contribution to disability and paraplegic sports.
  • He will be presented with the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer on National Heroes Day, October 15.
  • Mr. Lopez, who started competitive swimming from a young age, representing Kingston College in water polo, tells JIS News that during his travels overseas to swim meets, he would see disabled athletes from other countries compete, and believed that Jamaica could do the same.

Veteran swim coach, John Lopez, who has trained some of Jamaicans greatest Paralympians, is being honoured by the Government of Jamaica for contribution to disability and paraplegic sports.

He will be presented with the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer on National Heroes Day, October 15.

Mr. Lopez, who started competitive swimming from a young age, representing Kingston College in water polo, tells JIS News that during his travels overseas to swim meets, he would see disabled athletes from other countries compete, and believed that Jamaica could do the same.

He founded the Marlin Swim Club in 1959, and started a swimming programme at the Mona Rehabilitation Centre (now Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre) in 1963, where he remained for approximately 15 years.

He says he quickly discovered that despite their physical disability, those who benefited from the services of the facility were mentally strong.

“So, we decided that we were going to push these young people and make them realise that they can do what other people were doing,” he says.

The former coach says that the athletes performed well, as they wanted to compete in the various international meets, where many of them went on to win several gold, silver and bronze medals. These competitions include the Pan American and Paralympic Games.

He recalls that Octavious Morgan was the first disabled athlete he trained, who won a gold medal at an international meet.

Mr. Lopez tells JIS News that the athletes have inspired him, noting that “while they are disabled in their limbs, they are not disabled in their minds. If pushed, they can achieve anything, as it is all in the mind. If you tell yourself you can do something, you can”.

“Give me the person who has tried and failed over the person who has never tried at all, as failing is an experience that you can learn from,” he adds.

The swimming enthusiast says he is happy with where the sport is in Jamaica today, and at 91 years old, is still teaching children and adults to swim at his community pool.

He says that the sport of swimming has allowed him to keep in good health. It is the perfect exercise, he points out, especially for people who are older and have developed painful joints that prevent them from walking or jogging.

Mr. Lopez tells JIS News that he was surprised, but honoured at the news that he is receiving the national award.

“I never believed that anything like this could ever happen to me. I feel very humbled to be placed among so many awesome people who have made tremendous contribution to Jamaica,” he expresses.

Mr. Lopez credits his wife, Vivian Carmen Lopez, who worked with him at Mona Rehab and was instrumental in the success of the coaching programme.

“I could not have made it without my wife,” he says, adding that he shares the award with her.

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