The following is a story of a young man. Unlike the stories I’ve shared on WordPress before today this one is non-fiction. It’s a story of a period in my life that was filled with equal parts of victorious pleasure and lonely pain. A tough period that wielded great success. That success was perhaps part of the reason it was such a tough time.
Please note that all names used besides my own and those of the clubs are false to protect the identities of the people in question.
I forget exactly how old I was when I joined Ashton-under-Lyne Swimming Club. I was around ten or eleven I think. I joined mainly because my aspirations of becoming a footballer had been quelled after a bad experience with Dukinfield Tigers Football Club and the nepotistic manager. His style of ‘management’ almost quelled my desire and confidence to join any other sports club and my distaste towards the man has never diminished. He probably has no idea how much his actions affected that boy I once was.
When I joined Ashton I don’t think I was really anything special. I could swim and enjoyed doing it, but there was no special talent there as far as I was concerned. I trained every Tuesday and Thursday and was somewhere along the line deemed good enough to compete in meets (known as galas) for the club.
My story really begins when I was twelve years old. It was around this time when I realised that I was actually pretty good at swimming. In an interclub gala, I finished second in the 50 metres freestyle race behind George; the boy who was recognised as the best at the club at that particular race. He won the big shiny cup and I remember thinking that I’d do all in my power to take it off him next year. It’d take hard work, but I’d do it.
So I worked hard. I not only started training extra at swimming, but I also started training at my uncle’s gym; The Olympic Gym. I didn’t have an obsessive desire to become an amazing swimmer, but it was a thought that while I was doing it I might as well try and get good at it.
My progress was immense over the course of the next year. I went from being pretty much an also-ran to one of the best young swimmers at Ashton. I was arguably the hardest working too. I started winning my races and winning them a lot; against both other swimmers at Ashton and in galas against other clubs.
So eventually came the interclub gala and my race with George. My chance to avenge the defeat from last year. I was better, stronger and faster this time around. I was the favourite and he well knew it. I didn’t disappoint. While he’d beaten me by a decent margin the year before, I beat him by an even more comfortable margin this time around. I, to put it in as Mancunian a way as possible, twatted him! The big shiny cup was mine! My name was engraved on it and everything. More importantly, I’d kept my promise to myself.
That was the rocket up the arse that my swimming career needed. There was no stopping me from that point. I trained harder and I got better. George, possibly as a result of the spanking I gave him, left Ashton shortly after that interclub gala. Hardly a surprise if he hadn’t progressed at all. In all honesty, he probably went backwards.
When I was thirteen, Ashton’s golden boy, Darren, took me under his wing. Darren was the coolest guy I’d ever known. He was five years older than I was, he was really good-looking (and boy, did he know it), he drove a cool car, he had a hot girlfriend and, most importantly, he was a fucking awesome swimmer. He also had a great taste in music. I attribute my love for dance music to him in part (the other part I attribute to my elder sister).
Darren and I became good friends. He’d pick me up before training to take me for drives in his car and he also started taking me to train at another club to aid my development. He saw the potential in me and wanted to help bring it to the fore. I drew strength from Darren. He was pretty much my idol. I modelled myself on him as much as I possibly could. At school, I’d get judged for not being “cool”, but they really didn’t know just how cool my friend was. If only they could all see…
Being Darren’s wingman definitely improved me. It inspired me to become even better. The training with my uncle at the gym increased in tempo too. I was doing that several times a week as well as four swimming sessions. The hard work was paying off plus dividends.
I’d quickly become the best all-around junior swimmer at the club (junior being under sixteen). I was used in great abundance in galas and would compete in several races both individually and in relay teams. I was the fastest junior at Ashton in the crawl, backstroke and butterfly whilst remaining a close second behind Jamie in the breaststroke. I was sweeping the board at the interclub galas and winning virtually every race I competed in at junior level whilst holding my own at senior level too.
Still aged thirteen, I finished runner-up in the 50 metres backstroke over the course of the season in the Central Lancashire Junior League. It was an accolade I hadn’t expected as I hadn’t been made aware of how many races I’d won or lost and hadn’t kept count. Once again; just like with the interclub 50 metres freestyle; I saw silver and thought “why aren’t you gold?”
My next target was locked. The training intensified all the more. I didn’t attend any more sessions than before, but I was working harder and pushing myself further. My uncle started training me on a more personal level with a discipline called plyometrics. It was difficult and it tested me, but I enjoyed it. I got a real buzz from a tough training session and my uncle never went easy on me. Neither did our new trainer at Ashton, Carl. I loved the intensity and really fed off it.
I got better still. So good that I was being included in senior galas by the time I turned fourteen. The difference between junior and senior was massive and it really tested my mettle, but I was running guys who were substantially older than I was very close. I always felt disappointed when I lost. Losing had become something of a rarity. I was addicted to winning.
While I was falling just short in the seniors, at junior level I was taking on all comers and dispensing of the challenge; especially at 50 metres backstroke, which had quickly become my speciality directly as a result of the silver medal I’d attained the previous season. I was propelling my team to victory in some relays, while I was the only one who scored Ashton any points at all in a handful of galas. It was a frustrating place to be in; too good for the juniors, but not quite ready for the seniors.
In amongst all of the club swimming were meets at Broughton swimming pool where I competed on a more individual basis. The club element still existed as you were a representative of your club, but the majority of the races were for single competitors. It was a different vibe there altogether and I always felt a touch intimidated by the ambience, especially when I was younger. These galas wielded success for me too though. The field was much more competitive than I was used to as it included swimmers from other leagues as well as Central Lancashire and it was always a good feeling to come away from Broughton with a medal.
I was fourteen during this particular season; the season I was chasing overall gold in the 50 metres backstroke. I chased hard. I stared down every competitor and ensured the mental edge was mine before every race. In the end, the result was academic. I won every single 50 metres backstroke race over the course of the season in the Central Lancashire Junior League. The only person who came close was a lad called John from Stalybridge Swimming Club. The gold was mine. I was not only the aggregate champion at 50 metres backstroke, but I was undefeated also. That felt good!
At the interclub presentation for that season, I won both the aggregate trophy (most gold medals won by one swimmer at the interclub galas) and the Club Swimmer of the Year. Neither came as a surprise. I’d earned them on merit and I don’t feel narcissistic in saying so. The problem I had is that everybody knew how good I’d become in such a short space of time and it didn’t sit well with some of them; both swimmers and parents alike.
The ride was destined to become rough at Ashton Swimming Club. It was going to become hellish in a way that no teenager should have been made to suffer, but then jealousy is a wanton thing and can really bring out the worst in people.
TO BE CONTINUED
If you are interested in joining or having your child/children join any of the clubs mentioned then click on the links that will take you directly to the homepage of each. I cannot advocate children getting into sport highly enough.
Also please check out my Uncle Mick’s blog at http://www.seedofspeed.com/. Not only is he the founder of The Olympic Gym, but has coached a number of sporting superstars; especially during his time as fitness coach at Manchester United Football Club. His musings are definitely worth a read!
Image header from CHSAANow.com