From Surgery to Swimming: Rose’s Remarkable Aquatic Therapy Story

5 min. read
From Surgery to Swimming: Rose’s Remarkable Aquatic Therapy Story
BY Virgin Active South Africa
Posted On 20 February, 2024

When you come across an inspiring story like Rose’s, it’s impossible not to share it. We’re continuing the good news movement by sharing the story of a little girl who has found her groove in a swimming pool with aquatic therapy. This is Rose’s story.


Rose had open-heart surgery at 11 weeks old, and started in our Learn to Swim programme at Virgin Active Waterstone when she was just 4-and-a-half months old. After her heart surgery, she couldn’t lie on her tummy unless she was in water, and as most parents will know, ‘tummy-time’ is important for a baby’s physical development.

Rose learned to swim before crawling because she could move freely in the pool, and achieved a big milestone recently when she swam 1m by herself from the pool raft to the wall.

Rose’s family celebrated by taking underwater videos with their GoPro and sharing them with friends and family. They have placed a swimming certificate and a photo of her swimming underwater in her bedroom. This was a big achievement, but progress has always been the main focus for them.

Rose’s journey with Virgin Active started when her parents, Roger and Louise, contacted Virgin Active Swim Manager, Elmarie Nel.

“We were mostly unaware of all the benefits of swimming for babies and children until we saw video clips on YouTube of babies swimming and becoming independent in the water by age two. We were blown away by this and started thinking about how swimming could benefit Rose. This is when we contacted our nearest Virgin Active and signed up for their baby swimming programme”.

They added, “We didn’t realise that learning to swim would be so beneficial, both physically and emotionally, and great fun at the same time. Swimming has contributed immensely towards Rose overcoming low muscle tone and minimising developmental delays. We can see such huge developments in her confidence, in and out the water, and we put this down to commitment and consistency in her swimming lessons”.

Seeing how swimming has benefitted her in her gross motor skills (abilities that let us do tasks that involve large muscles in our torso, legs, and arms) development and core strength, as well as fine motor skills (the ability to make movements using the small muscles like in our hands and wrists) required for some of the games and activities, has convinced them that they are following the right path.

Rose loves the water, and since her dad bought her a portable pool in December, she’s been swimming daily.

Elmarie explains, “In the beginning, we had to adjust a lot of our swim holds to make sure we didn’t put any pressure on her rib cage because of the open-heart surgery she had.

We also couldn’t hold her upright, but with a few adjustments to her position, she managed to do everything we do in our baby classes. You could see from day one that Rose loved the water. I think it gave her a sense of freedom, and she could move without pain or discomfort. As we progressed into our swim programme, I quickly realised she was really strong in the water and a real “water baby”. She has progressed so much that we are doing activities I do with my 2-3-year-old group.”

Rose has a positive impact on everyone she meets. Her parents explain, “She always causes a splash in the pool, literally and figuratively. Elmarie and Rose have developed a special bond, cemented by many songs and games. Elmarie’s enthusiasm is contagious, and the lessons are always filled with fun and laughter, often resulting in interaction with other children in the pool, adult swimmers, and on-looking parents. Rose loves waving at everybody inside and outside the pool.”

When asked what advice they have for other parents considering swimming for their little ones, they said: “The earlier you start, the better. Even if they don’t take to it immediately, keep persevering. The benefits to their overall development and the importance of water safety make it all worth it.”

We know what you’re all wondering: what’s next for Rose?

“In the short term, by age two, we are working towards Rose being water-safe and able to get out of the pool on her own in different scenarios. We have seen how beneficial swimming can be for early childhood development.

They have been inspired by the “unbelievable” Chad Le Clos, whom Rose had the honour of meeting at a recent training session in Cape Town. They have also been motivated by the achievements of Olympic Gold Medalist, Minke Janse Van Rensburg, from George. Minke has proven what can be done, and we wish the same for Rose. We want to give her every opportunity to grow, develop a love for swimming, and be confident in the water. If she competes and achieves medals, that is a dream come true.

Elmarie has been instrumental in getting us interested and motivated about swimming and aquatic therapy; she has encouraged us along the way. Each lesson is always a positive experience, and Rose’s enthusiasm in the water is a testament to this. Simply put, she has a ball every time. If Rose could talk, I am sure she would tell us that swimming with Elmarie is the highlight of her week.”

Rose, we can’t wait to see where your story leads you! Learn more about swimming at a Virgin Active gym near you today.