Thursday 25th November 2021

Spotlight On | Laura Pilkington

Para-Swimmer and Edinburgh Napier University student Laura Pilkington, shares reflections on coaching, education, mental health, & overcoming challenges.


In a brand new SSS feature, Spotlight On, we caught up with our Disability Lead Laura Pilkington.

Laura is a para-swimmer and currently studies at Edinburgh Napier University.  She tells about her story so far, touching on education, mental health and overcoming challenges!  

Hi – I’m Laura Pilkington, and I am a para–swimmer for Falkirk Integrated Regional Swim Team and I’m studying Physical Activity and Health at Edinburgh Napier University. I am currently a member of the Scottish Disability Sport (SDS) Young Person’s Sport Panel and sportscotland’s Young Person’s Sport Panel as well as the Disability Lead for Scottish Student Sport. My journey has been more of a squiggle line than a straight one, but I have learned so much along the way, and looking back it has made me who I am today.

In 2016, I was starting the third year of Computing Science at the University of Stirling and I wasn’t enjoying it. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my future, and I felt so lost and alone. I eventually got some support and made the decision to drop out of university. I felt like a failure for giving up, but I also felt a lot of pressure on my shoulders. During that time, I really struggled with my mental health and didn’t see a positive future for myself. I wanted to highlight this before I talk about my leadership journey. It was never a straight path and if I told myself 4 years ago, I would be where I am now I would have never believed it.

After taking some time out and going abroad to Mallorca, I decided to get back into my studies. I started at Robert Gordon University studying Applied Sports and Exercise Science. It was at this point I wanted to do some coaching while I was there, Alison Shaw (Scottish Disability Sport Regional Development Manager) suggested I apply for the Young Start (YS) Programme within SDS. I got paired up with Kelly as my mentor who coached at Bridge of Don. I loved it, Kelly was great and really supportive and by the end of that year, I gained my swimming teaching qualification. Unfortunately, at the end of my first year at Robert Gordon University, I decided to take a leave of absence due to still struggling with my mental health. This was hard as although I loved the course, I still wasn’t in the right place mentally to be able to complete the degree. But having the teaching qualification from the YS programme allowed me to get a job and get some experience working while I figured things out. I loved the programme and took all the opportunities to go on courses and upskill myself.

In March 2020 the pandemic hit and the YS programme was moved online, this gave me a drive and something to work towards during that time and without that I would have struggled. I felt a sense of purpose and wanted to use that time to make a difference. During that time, I graduated from the YS programme as well as starting the Disability Wellbeing and Me project with fellow Young Start members. This was important to me as I struggled to accept my disability, especially at university and I wanted to use my experience and what I had learned to positively influence others.

In November 2020, I was accepted onto the sportscotland panel and even to this day, I still can’t believe I got through the selection process. Raising awareness of the positive impact of sport and getting more people involved is so important to me. We are now in our subgroups, which I am in the PE, Education, and Schools. I am also Scottish Student Sport’s Disability Lead, so far we have run an event for individuals transitioning from school to higher education (see below). It can be such a challenging transition and having an open space to talk about it is so important. Within the SDS Panel, I have been involved with the Comms and Branch subgroup, raising the profile of opportunities available to young people with a disability.

It can be hard combining training with 3rd year at university, but I am part of Napier’s Dual Career programme which is great in supporting me and allowing flexibility within my studies. This time around I am so much happier studying something I love and enjoying training in the pool.  It is difficult to admit that something isn’t right for you but taking that brave step and making a change can be the best thing. I still have hard times, but I am getting better at asking for support. I used to never think I was capable of all the things I am doing now but I am so glad I made the first step in saying yes to an opportunity instead of no. Getting involved in leadership has made such a difference in my life.

Scottish Student Sport would like to thank Laura for sharing her personal story with us. If you have any questions for Laura or how to encourage students with disabilities to take part in student sport, please email Development Coordinator Eilidh Paterson

If you would like to be featured on “Spotlight On” or know someone inspirational with a story to tell then please get in touch.