Thursday 12 December 2019

The real lifesaver!


ROBERT CADMAN has dedicated his working life to promoting awareness of water safety in Sligo, setting up the first approved swim school in Rosses Point being just one of his many feats. He certainly knows enough about the sport; in his youth he competed extensively in his native Ulster, and was awarded the prestigious Swimmer of the Year accolade. Yet it was in Sligo that Robert set up home.

His wife Kathleen is a native of Sligo and the couple have been involved in coaching local children in the Sligo Swim and Lifesaving School for almost twenty years. Children are taught the importance of water safety, through lifesaving and lifeguarding courses and swim competitions. Robert also is a director with the Irish Lifesaving Foundation for many years.

"Kathleen and I set up the Sligo Swim and Lifesaving School in the nineties, along with Neil Walton, who was involved for the first couple of years; he subsequently left to develop the successful Voya Seaweed baths," Robert explained.

Robert's journey from England, where he was born, to Sligo has been a rather eventful one. Born in the small village of Pittsmoor, now a suburb of Shefflield, Yorkshire, Robert was a young child when the Cadman family moved to Northern Ireland in the fifties, as Robert's mother came from Derry.

"There wasn't much work in England or indeed the North at that time. My father, Cyril, was a ' black-hat chef ' (a top chef ) and he worked with the Army for a time, covering places like India, Palestine and then spent a while with the Navy before he retired," Robert recalled.

The Cadman ancestors had always portrayed a love for swimming; Robert's uncle Joe was an English Swimming Champion and won numerous medals underage. "It was a huge thing for the family, Joe was extremely athletic and was the British Champion, but unfortunately he died at a young age. He was in the army and a plane crashed, Joe went to rescue some of his friends but crossed over ammunition which exploded."

When Robert was learning the basics of swimming, it was a little different from today's methods. He began at the age of five and chuckles that in those times it was a 'sink or swim' approach. "We were taught using a pole, rope and bellyband; we'd be put into the water, if you were frightened it was just tough luck!"

This method would have made a lot of children run for the exit doors, but gradually the techniques changed and became more scientific. "My father was the reason I started swimming in the first place. He did a lot of work with the Polio Fellowship of Ireland, working with children who had polio and special need, teaching them how to swim." This was a required skill in itself and watching his dad teach children clearly ingrained something in the young Robert for later down the line.

Derry was without a public swimming pool until the fifties, and it wasn't until much pioneering on the back of Frank Bradley, who travelled over from Scotland, that the wheels began to turn. "Other places would have had pools, including Sligo, but residents in Derry had to make do with the Derry City Baths."

Robert humorously remembers that along with his father Cyril and Frank Bradley, another character by the name of Gerry Mcmanus set up the YSAU, the Young Swimmers Alliance of Ulster. "Frank and Gerry were the complete opposite of one another - Frank was always dressed in short sleeves, while Gerry wore the best of Irish tweed - they were great friends though and didn't let their religious differences stand in their way."

The YSAU began teaching lessons to primary school children, Robert being one of them, and the training was as frequent as five times a week - from 6.30a.m. before school started. "We competed across Ireland including Sligo itself, which had a good open-air pool, where many Sligonians learned to swim, out near Hughes Bridge," he recalls.

Robert swam in Irish Championships, Ulster Championships, and the Ulster Boys competitions; he remembers competing at the first outside BBC Sports broadcast in Bangor when an Ulster Championship was taking place." It was nice to be part of a piece of history. Most of the categories I featured in were from the 100m right up to 1500m, well it was yards at that time," Robert said.

"You had to be super fit for the sport," he maintains, and to sustain this level of fitness meant working at other sports too. As well as swimming, Robert was light weight lifting and also a Judo champion, competing with the Irish and British Championships on the Ulster Judo team. But, alas, as any serious athlete is terrified of, injury did hamper Robert's Judo career. "I slipped awkwardly on ice and ultimately smashed my leg, and that was that, a few weeks later I walked down the aisle with a plaster cast!," he chuckles.

Robert married Kathleen in 1968, having first met at the Kilala Salmon Festival 47 years ago. They now have three children and eight grandchildren. "Shortly after our wedding, about six months or so, the troubles began in Northern Ireland." They were living in Derry on January 30th, 1972, the fateful day that was Bloody Sunday. "I was working with the Order of Malta, I treated four of the victims who were shot, it was frightening. Nobody was allowed out, we had to stay at our first aid posts, Kathleen didn't see me for four days as we had to remain at the first aid huts, there was no such thing as mobile phones back then," Robert recounted. "It was utter mayhem, the injured were brought to hospital and a number of those that I tended to didn't make it." Robert was given a medal of bravery for his efforts on that day; he says that