“Teachers told me Shauna was a “health and safety risk” swimming – now she’s a Special Olympian!”

Margaret Hogan was horrified when teachers told her that 9 year old Shauna, her daughter who has Down’s syndrome, was a “health and safety risk” and not allowed to learn to swim like the rest of those in her class. Horrified, Margaret fought the decision and now 17 years later, Shauna has represented Great Britain in the Special Olympics team and is the ‘face’ of the 2021 Special Olympic Summer Games in Liverpool. Margaret tells her story of never letting one extra chromosome get in her daughter’s way…

John and I already had two children, Kieron and Niall and when Shauna was born, it was a huge surprise in more ways than one. I had to have fertility treatment to have my 2 boys and was told that there was no chance of me getting pregnant again without help. Then when Kieron was 12 and Niall 8, I found out I was pregnant. At 37 it was a shock. My career was doing well and the boys were settled, but I knew this was meant to be. No matter what, I was having this baby. When Shauna was one I started an Open University degree – mad maybe with a full time job and three children (one with Down’s syndrome as well), but I thought, if Shauna is going to have challenges to meet, then I could have too. The course took me six years to complete, but I did it. It is important for parents to know your life does not go on hold because you have a child with Down’s syndrome.

Shauna is 26 now, but her birth is still fresh, it was a terrible experience. The midwife ran out upset at having delivered a baby like Shauna. The experience got worse when I expressed my feelings that there was something wrong. Shauna was constantly sick and not feeding. After she vomited green bile I screamed blue murder until she was seen by a doctor. She was x-rayed and a blockage was found in her bowl. She was transferred to the special care unit and operated on at 3 days old. I was deemed a “neurotic mother”. This was just the start of various fights over the next few years…

One example that sticks in my mind is swimming. Shauna went to a mainstream junior school and learnt alongside her peers, albeit a little slower. When her teacher refused to take her swimming though, deeming her a “health and safety risk”, I couldn’t hold back. After a heated discussion with the head and threatening to take them to a disability tribunal, we gave them a month to sort it out. Meantime I organised one-to-one lessons for Shauna to learn how to swim. It was soon apparent that she was a very good swimmer and she began beating all her peers to the swimming certificates. Her swimming teacher then encouraged her to join a club and she soon entered the Down’s UK Championships, where she astounded us by winning every race she entered. Since then, she has represented Team GB in the Special Olympics in Puerto Rico in 2012, winning a silver and two bronze medals. In 2014 she represented the country at the Southern California Special Olympic Games in Los Angeles, winning two silvers and a bronze. She’s also the ‘face’ of the 2021 Special Olympic Summer Games in Liverpool. We are so incredibly proud of her and everything she has achieved. In a way, I should thank that teacher because if he hadn’t said she couldn’t swim, we would not have pushed and Shauna would not have swum for her country.

Shauna is also a keen actress, having performed in many local shows. She started dancing when she was four, and competed at the Irish Dance World Championships in 2003. She has a job at a local cafe, gives presentations about her life to schools and colleges, and has recently been to talk to hospital staff about how to best treat patients with Down’s syndrome.

Maybe we didn’t expect to be parents of someone with Down’s syndrome and it is certainly not without its challenges, but Shauna has enriched all our lives. My life would not have been as exciting if I hadn’t had Shauna, it’s not every day your child takes you to places like Los Angeles and Puerto Rico to see them excel in their chosen sport! I feel passionately that every person with Down’s syndrome is an individual and should be treated as such. Any child can achieve if they are given the opportunity – Shauna has proved that to the world.

Shauna is one of our WorkFit candidates and works in a cafe. See how she’s getting on in the below film: