A disabled girl has thanked her four-legged friend after they both received a national award.
And this made it double delight for Kaitlyn Soden and family as the Ellington resident won the Spirit of Sport accolade at the Lord’s Taverners Sporting Chance Awards just a couple of weeks earlier.
After being terrified of water just a few years ago, she has come on leaps and bounds since joining Ashington Swimming Club and she has taken part in her first mainstream competition and a number of club events in recent months.
Plus, the 12-year-old and her hearing dog Rowan were successful in the Young Partners Award category of the Hearing Dogs Awards 2016.
Kaitlyn was born prematurely at 26 weeks and among other health difficulties, she was profoundly deaf.
She has auditory neuropathy, which means whilst the cochlea (inner ear) receives sounds normally, there is an issue with processing sounds.
An operation to install a cochlea implant at the age of four has helped, but she was still very shy.
However, Kaitlyn has come on leaps and bounds since she started to go along to sessions at Ashington Swimming Club and Rowan came into her life through Hearing Dogs for Deaf People a few years ago.
Kaitlyn said of Rowan: “She helps me be brave and happy, helps me get sleepy at bedtimes and makes me not scared of anything.”
Hearing Dogs partnership instructor Hayley Birks, who has looked after the pair since they were first matched, has seen a huge change.
She said: “Kaitlyn is like a different girl.
“She’s happy to be asked questions, happy to go into shops on her own and get things done on her own, and has just come on in leaps and bounds from the shy little girl that I first met.”
Kaitlyn first learned to swim on her own with coach Kath Dickinson and now she is fully part of the team.
Her father, Phil Soden, said: “Now that she has joined the main group at the club, trying to keep up with some of the others is a big motivation for her.
“She puts her problems to one side when she gets into the pool and she really enjoys swimming and trying to set new personal best times.
“It’s her time not in the house or at school, so Kaitlyn always wants to go along – even in the winter or when she is feeling a bit under the weather.
“We’re very grateful to Kath for her excellent coaching and she taught the other club members to spell their name in sign language, which was a nice gesture.
“A few year ago, Kaitlyn wouldn’t say anything and hid behind her mother’s (Sharron’s) legs, but now she has the confidence to people that she has only met once before.
“Rowan has also played a big part in her development.”