A PASSIONATE swimming teacher whose students won gold medals at the Special Olympics is retiring after a successful career spanning three decades.

Naomi Pilkington, 65, from Benfleet spent 29 years teaching children and adults how to swim at the Runnymede Leisure Centre, in Kiln Road, Thundersley.

The grandmother, who has trained approximately 10,000 students and also coaches a swimability squad for people with disabilities, taught her final lesson on Monday.

She said: “I thought I was going to teach swimming for so many more years. I’ve taught adults and school children.

“I saw two of my adult students swim a length today so I was very pleased with my final day.”

Mrs Pilkington was a founding member of the Swimability Squad, which introduces people with disabilities to swimming.

She said her biggest highlight was when four of her students from the squad won gold medals during the Special Olympics in Bath last year.

She said: “My swimability squad is what keeps me young, they keep me going.

They get you, they want you, and they show you. When I went through my divorce, they really kept me going and got me through it. I used to go into lessons one person and come out another.”

Mrs Pilkington’s dedication and passion for her work was proven when she was named runner-up for the Sunday Times Unsung Hero award in 2007.

She said: “I got a phone call saying I had been shortlisted for the award.

“But when I did not win it some of my children were really upset, but I got so far, it really was humbling.”

Mrs Pilkington will continue training her swimability squad on a voluntary basis and will also teach piano.

She said: “I will still be working with the Special Olympics children.

“I have been doing it for such a long time, but at least I won’t smell of chlorine any more!”