Cognitive issues are one of the major effects of intellectual impairment. Hélène Parmentier, sister and coach of the Belgian Paralympic S-14 swimmer Aymeric Parmentier shared some of those issues Aymeric faces due to his impairment in a match day environment with Virtus reporter Mousumi Mazumdar.
Mousumi – Hi Helen. You are the sister of Aymeric Parmentier, who is an S-14 Paralympic Swimmer and you are also his coach. Can you tell us, about his childhood and his impairment affected him, especially in his training?
Hélène – Hello Mousumi. I’m not really sure how to answer it because, you know, I know him since we are little. I grew up with him so I’m used to it. But I know that when we are training, sometimes I have to repeat a lot of things. Repeat, repeat, and that’s when you want something to happen, maybe take three months, maybe it will be six months, we don’t know at first, because sometimes you just find the right words and then it’s perfect. But then sometimes we just push and push and push and it never happens. Then someday we don’t know what we did and it’s done. So, it takes a lot of time and a lot of energy to do it.
Mousumi – And how long have you been training him?
Hélène – I’ve been training him since 2015, I guess, when it was his first World championship because it was difficult for our club to manage both planification and as I was the only one who was free to travel with him a lot of times so I took the job.
Mousumi – Why did you decide to coach him?
Hélène – Because no other coach was keen to go with him. They saw it like a waste of time, you know. They just wanted to go to the Belgium championships and other championships and it was really sad for us because we saw that it was a world championship for it was a great big achievement, but not for them. So luckily for me, now I’m going to the Paralympic games and it feels great.
Mousumi – And he mentioned that he participated for the first time in the Paralympics in Tokyo. Has the perception of those coaches changed after he became a Paralympian?
Hélène – Yeah, I got a lot of messages saying that now they want Aymeric to be in their team and they are going to make him to competition. But, now I don’t want to leave him. I have put so much effort and made him into a Paralympian.
Mousumi – And can you tell us how he feels before a competition? Does he feel pressure before the event or is he very calm, can you talk us through his competition time?
Hélène – No, he has a lot of pressure his pressure. Aymeric loves to follow his habits, so I know it, so you know things have to be clear and stay in the right order. But of course, when you are in a competition, anything can happen. And so I feel to minimize the risk, you know, and I know what to do, what will be difficult for him and so I anticipate it. So everything will be cool for him, but when he’s going to the call room, I’m not there anymore, so he has to make the effort by himself and that’s where it’s going to be difficult for him.
Mousumi – Has he ever faced problems inside the call rooms?
Hélène – Yes, lots of problems because he likes to be in his bubble. But sometimes other swimmers are putting pressure on him because they are sitting too close or making some loud noises, you know, there’s a lot of things we have to work on it. And, sometimes he just feels pressured because he doesn’t know if he’s in the right heat because he doesn’t speak English, and sometimes you don’t have your number on your chair, so it’s not something that you have to think, plus, to swim, you know he has to think about everything and then he is behind his starting block and sometimes he cannot focus on the race because of everything that happened just before.
Mousumi – So as we see, there are assistants or supporters for other para-athletes. Do you think it’s important for athletes with an intellectual impairment to have support to guide them through this?
Hélène – Yes, I think so. They need some support because when you have people on a wheelchair, you don’t say to them- “no, make an effort and walk”, you know. And for them, because they are able-bodied, they have to make that effort. But if they could do things without needing additional support, they won’t be in para-swimming, they will be in mainstream swimming at the Olympics. So I think it’s a bit unfair for them, yeah.
Mousumi – And do you think it’s difficult for people to understand what athletes with intellectual impairment go through because their impairment is invisible?
Hélène – Yes, it is. We have lots of reflection on this, even when we are at our pool and swimming and he doesn’t see another swimmer and just swims across him/her because he didn’t see them. It makes other people angry. And I try to explain that it wasn’t made on purpose and it’s so, so difficult to explain that even if it doesn’t show his face, there is an impairment he has, you know.
Mousumi – How can we support these athletes?
Hélène – I already thought about it and I think that maybe for example in the call room it would be great to have pictograms. You know when they are entering the call room they are asked- show me your cap, show me your goggles, show me your swimsuit. But it’s in English so maybe if you had some image of this to be easier. And maybe we can just. Translator, but also for them it will be best. And yeah, and try to put the number on the chair, on the call room, that’s very important.
Mousumi – Anything else like outside the call room? From the official side or from in the rulebooks you think something is necessary, which if we adapt to it can help and support?
Hélène – Yeah, when we were in France in the general room. For example, there was some picture on it or some flags, so he knows where he has to go where it’s his right place. That makes things easier for him. And I also think that when they have to pull them back, for example, sometimes it’s difficult because he has difficulty with coordination. So if you do official can help it would be great.
Mousumi– And we have come across athletes who used to train with mainstream sports athletes. Sometimes this works well but sometimes not. Did Aymeric have a similar experience?
Hélène – Yeah, I think that when we begin to swim a lot, we had to change the clip where he was in a disability club and there he has a lot of friends, you know, because they had the same topic, the same games and they could talk together, but they had only two training per week, so it was not enough. So we tried to find another club with mainstream swimmers and yeah, it was very difficult for him because he wasn’t able to be himself. He was left a bit on the corner because he couldn’t find any enjoyment in the conversation and so on. Then we tried to find a way that two times a week go to the previous club so that he can speak with his friends and the rest of the week he practices with the mainstream athletes. We tried to find a balance in his training schedule which was very important for him.
Mousumi – Is there any message you would like to give to other sisters or family members who have someone with intellectual impairment?
Hélène – It’s a difficult job because you have to put a lot of your own time into it and sometimes you don’t have any recognition, but it is worth it.