How Do Blind Swimmers Know When To Flip at the Wall? (VIDEO)

McClain Hermes

Paralympian and journalism intern, McClain Hermes, shares exclusively with Swimming World some of her methods of doing a flip turn at the wall. As a blind swimmer, Hermes has found freedom in swimming. She even fulfilled her dreams of competing at the pinnacle of success. At just fifteen years old, she swam at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.

Hermes also answers YOUR questions about practicing and competing as a blind athlete. So, first things first, how do blind swimmers know when to flip at the wall?!


Hermes’ coach stands at the end of the lane and uses a “tapper” to signal that she is approaching the wall. She is usually “tapped” on her last stroke.

Over the years, Hermes has used a tennis ball on a broomstick, a PVC pipe, a golf ball retriever and now a window washer. When Hermes feels the tap, she flips immediately so there is no hesitation in the last few strokes. As an S11 swimmer, she wears blacked-out goggles and trails the lane line with her fingers to stay straight.

Sprinkler System

Hermes says of the sprinkler system,

“I love using the sprinkler system in practice! It is very reliable. I can set it up to hit me exactly where I want it to. I set up my sprinkler on the side of the pool where I can feel the water hitting me one stroke away from the wall. But it’s very easy to move around and change it so that [I] feel comfortable with the water pressure and position of the sprinkler.”

Hermes uses both a normal sprinkler and a garden hose on the end of each side of the pool to act as her indication to flip.

“It’s so cold so it feels refreshing during a hard set!”

Hermes Answers Your Questions About Swimming Blind


Photo Courtesy: McClain Hermes

Q: Do you always use the tapper or do you also use stroke count? -Caroline K. 

A: There are a couple of different techniques I use to flip turn. I count my strokes, use a tapper or a sprinkler system! The tapper is my favorite because it is the most reliable way to turn. I always count my strokes just in case.

Q: How do you know if you’re on the left side of the lane or the right when you circle swim? -Sean S.

A: I feel the lane line to know where I am. I try to trail the lane line with my fingertips.

Q: Any push back on using the sprinkler in competition? It’s a great approach, I have never seen this approach before.  -Sarah.

A: We are not allowed to use sprinklers in competition. Blind swimmers use a tapper (a pole with a tennis ball on the end) in competition.

Q: Do your fingers hurt from dragging on the lane line? -Erik M.

A: Yes! I jam my fingers all the time and I usually have bruises/cuts/scrapes on my hands and knuckles. It can get annoying but no pain, no gain!

Q: How do you do starts?  -K.W. 

A: I am really nervous when I start. Imagine the feeling of falling with your eyes closed. I do a regular track start, but I am often shaky on the block.

Q: How do you track your pace and send-offs? Does your coach send you off?  -Anthony P.

A: I use a Tempo Trainer for most of my intervals. We set the Tempo Trainer to the interval and I go on the “beep”. If that doesn’t work for the specific workout, a coach or teammate will tell me when to go.


Read more about how blind athletes adapt, here. What questions do YOU have about practicing or competing as a blind swimmer?!

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x