Paul.E.Bailey’s World – The Loser That Always Won: My Swimming Story Part 2

Click the link to catch up with Part 1. All names are false to protect the identities of people mentioned bar that of my son and my uncle.


After claiming Club Swimmer of the Year in early 1999 (just shy of turning fifteen), little did I realise that I’d reached the peak of my career at Ashton-under-Lyne Swimming Club despite the fact that I was still getting better and better.

Everything remained pretty much as it were. I was leading the way in the juniors and winning most races I partook in, while I was closing the gap on the opposition in the seniors; even winning a decent amount of races. I was garnering more success than ever at Broughton on an individual basis too.

One surprise that came from the Broughton meets was victory in the 200 metres backstroke; something nobody was expecting. I was regarded a brilliant backstroke sprinter, but my ability over greater distances was unknown. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense because of the training I was doing with my Uncle Mick at the gym which was very much stamina based.

My performance was so impressive that I managed to make the Central Lancashire team to compete at Everton in the regional finals. I was selected to race in the 200 metres backstroke and as part of the medley relay team. Regional level was the highest level I reached, something I’m quite proud of even if I perhaps could have gone further. I finished a commendable fourth in the 200 metres backstroke, but I forget where we finished in the relay.

Only one other Ashton swimmer at that time managed to make the Central Lancashire team. Liam joined me as a reserve and didn’t get the chance to compete.

It was a second unbeaten season in the Central Lancashire Junior League at 50 metres backstroke. That’s not to say I won every race though. John from Stalybridge almost capitalised on an error I made in one of our races (at Stalybridge – the away gala) and managed to push me to a dead heat. Close, but no cigar, John. It was a second gold in two consecutive years and Ashton Swimming Club itself managed its best performance in the league for a long time that year too.

On the surface, all was fine at Ashton, but you only needed to scratch it to realise that not everything was what it seemed. Unfortunately, nepotism had a hand in some of what went on at the club and despite my success (or perhaps as a result of it), my popularity seemed to wane both with my teammates and the parents.

The parents had great influence at the club as they did a lot to keep the club running. I feel there was a touch of animosity towards my own parents because they weren’t part of this clique. They had their hands full taking my younger sister gymnastics training or to competitions all across the country; something I’ve never lamented because she was a damn sight better gymnast than I was a swimmer. She SHOULD have been an Olympian but for an unfortunate back injury. She frequented the Great Britain team down in Lilleshall and definitely needed my parents more than I did.

The only problem was that they were unable to protect me from the sudden animosity I was receiving and it was me against the whole club. Darren seemed to lose interest in me in favour of Jamie; somebody who I’d now overtaken as the best breaststroker at junior level. I was always suspicious Darren dropped me because I suddenly had his number too. Darren had always been the best swimmer at Ashton, but I was now just as good if not better.

I was the undisputed best junior at the club. There could be no argument then and there can be no argument now. I could beat everybody my age and younger and most people older at any stroke. It was to my detriment because people turned on me as a result. They assumed me to be cocky. I wasn’t cocky at all. I’d gotten good; nothing more. I didn’t have it in me to be arrogant unless I was faking it. I was on my own. The people at the club at that time couldn’t possibly understand how left out they made me feel and it hurts to the day.

So I changed my game. I stopped being humble in victory. I became exactly what they all thought of me. I became arrogant. I approached the pool with a cocky veneer. I swam aggressively. I thrust my fist in the air after every victory. I did it for me. Ashton Swimming Club could go swivel as far as I was concerned and they knew that I’d changed.

They reacted by questionably disqualifying me in an interclub gala for an illegal turn when perhaps fifty percent of all kids there were performing illegal turns or doing something that wasn’t by the book. My mum tells me that they even awarded victory to Darren in one race when I had in fact won. I couldn’t attest to that as I honestly can’t remember. My mum isn’t known for telling tall tales though.

I reacted further by missing the occasional training session and not putting in the effort I used to, but still turned up to every gala and did the job. I knew I could so it really didn’t matter to me. I could live with missing training to hang out with people who actually liked me. I didn’t feel bad about it despite their attempts to make me feel that way.

I wasn’t at all surprised that I didn’t retain my Club Swimmer of the Year award. I didn’t care either. I knew I’d been the best again. I knew I’d won the club probably half of its entire total of points that season alone in the league. Not giving me the award was another attempt to get under my skin and I knew it. I ignored it; ready to go again and beat everyone the next season.

I made the Central Lancashire team for a second time owing to my performances at Broughton. It was much the same as the previous year where I put in a good performance, but sadly it wasn’t enough to claim my highest ever honours in the sport. I do enjoy telling people I represented my county at regional level though.

The next season would be my last in the Central Lancashire Junior League owing to my age. It would also be my last at Ashton Swimming Club. I decided I was going to quit swimming after that season, but told nobody. I wanted to go out with a bang.

It was like déjà-vu. I led the way for Team Paul. I won virtually every race I competed in and gave no quarter to anybody. I kept largely to my own company and represented only myself. I knew that each win and each fist pump every time I did win grated on so many people and that only spurred me on. I wanted to annoy them. They deserved it.

They couldn’t leave me out of Senior League sides anymore because I was better than all the seniors. I feel so narcissistic saying all of this now, but I really was that good; at least compared to the guys at Ashton anyway. I’m a humble guy, but the way I was made to feel in those two years turned me into a completely different animal.

For the third year running, I won the 50 metres backstroke title in the Central Lancashire Junior League and went unbeaten once again. No blemish of a dead heat this time. I won every single race. Three years unbeaten at 50 metres backstroke in the Central Lancashire Junior League. I’ll eat my hat if anybody has replicated that since.

I cleaned up at the interclub galas too. There was no competition for me at Ashton. Not anymore. I was going out on top. I was retiring in my prime.

I announced my decision shortly after the season ended. I can’t remember the reaction, but I’m fairly sure there were few people bothered. I’m sure most were happy to see the back of me. I was certainly happy to see the back of them. What sixteen year old would want to continue feeling so ostracised?

So that was my swimming career done.

Except it wasn’t. At the Central Lancashire presentation dinner that year, I met a girl called Louise. We became boyfriend and girlfriend shortly after. She swam for a club called Ramsbottom Rascals; the team regarded second best in the Central Lancashire league behind Tyldesley (oh, how I hated that club and the pretentious swines that swam for them). The coach of Ramsbottom, Rob, asked through Louise if I would speak to him some time.

I agreed and he managed to persuade me to give swimming another bash. I thought it was worth seeing how another season would go. Rammy were a better club with better swimmers and Rob himself was a Great Britain coach. How could I refuse?

Rob was great. He really took me under his wing. He saw the great potential I had in me and knew that he could harness it and make me better. He was only interested in what I was best at too so stuck stringently to my backstroke. I was already good for sub thirty seconds over 50 metres; his intention was to get me down to twenty-eight, perhaps even twenty-seven seconds. It was doable. I had the ability.

The only problem I had with Rob taking such a shine to me was that it incited immediate envy from the other swimmers. They despised the fact that I was his golden child. What didn’t help is that I was a kid from somewhere else. They were all ‘Burmunians’ who lived and went to school in and around Bury. I was born and bred in Ashton-under-Lyne. I was an outsider.

I actually remember one of the swimmers talking frankly with me. He was one of the better ones. He straight up told me that people didn’t like the way Rob treated me and it was causing people to dislike me.

I knew then and there that this was never going to work. I’d gone from a club where people hated me for being good to a club where people hated me because I was from another town and the manager liked me. I had too much going on outside of swimming to cope with the pressure of being a black sheep no matter what club I swam for.

I performed well that season. I gave Rammy and Rob my all. I won a great share of my races, including both in the galas against Ashton; something my mum always loves to remind me of (I often wonder who feels the greater animosity towards Ashton out of me and my mum). Rob also brought my times tumbling too and I actually managed to get into the low twenty-eight’s in my 50 metres backstroke. I’d shaved four seconds off my personal best in three years. That side of things was great.

What was missing though was the love. I was going through the motions. Swimming was breaking my heart. How could I give myself so willingly to something that was only serving to hurt me?

When the season ended, I thanked Rob for all of his hard work and for the opportunity, but told him I was going to quit swimming once and for all. He didn’t try to stop me. He was disappointed, but I think he knew that I was suffering and it was time to bow out.

This time I called it a day for good. I’ve never swum competitively again since then. I’ve thought about it. I’ve missed the thrill of competing every day since, but whenever I’ve thought about it, I’ve remembered how awful the whole experience made me feel. That’s something that will never go away.

I love swimming. It’s an amazing sport and I would urge every parent to get their kids into it because it can be so rewarding, especially in terms of health and fitness. It can be great fun too and there are bound to be friends you’ll make. I still have friends from my swimming days (though maybe not after they read this story). Don’t let this story deter you from getting your children into this magnificent sport. Get them into it, please.

I don’t hate Ashton Swimming Club anymore. I haven’t for a long time. I don’t even hate the people who made me feel worthless. Time is a great healer. I had the best years of my swimming career at Ashton and I wouldn’t have become as good as I was without them. All of the medals I amassed over the years I attribute in part to the coaches at Ashton. They had a hand in destroying what they’d built in me, but I perhaps should have been stronger and not allowed hate to ruin my career.

Maybe one day I’ll get Caellum into swimming. Maybe one day I can take him to Ashton and have him carry on the legacy I left behind. I’m sure things have changed from almost twenty years ago.


If you are interested in joining or having your child/children join Ashton-under-Lyne Swimming Club, Ramsbottom Rascals Swimming Club or The Olympic Gym then click the appropriate link. 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!

19 thoughts on “Paul.E.Bailey’s World – The Loser That Always Won: My Swimming Story Part 2

  1. Jealousy is evil. You’d think that being good at something competitive like swimming would gain you popularity, not ostracism from those who wanted to be as good as you, but weren’t. I’m really sorry you were made to feel like the black sheep in both these clubs, to the point where you quit as it had ceased to be enjoyable 😫😥 That really sucks, especially as you were so young at the time. I have always encountered jealousy in various forms. I seem to be someone who provokes it in other people quite often, so people are only too willing to try and drag me down. Bullying is very destructive and unfairly erodes esteem and peace of mind, and injustice, when you KNOW you are being fucked over, or lies are being told, nothing makes me more angry than that. I can see how your adult personality has been influenced by these experiences from when you were younger. Similar themes are still in you, from back then. I’m sure if Caellum gets into swimming, or something similar, then you are the perfect person to help him navigate all the potential human bullying bollocks associated with it. Unlike your parents were with you, your sole focus is on Caellum 😊 I hope you get back into swimming again and then write about it 🙋👊

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    1. It gained me ostracism at school too because I partook in interschool galas each year and cleaned up on the medals boards there as well. That made me a show off as far as the kids at school were concerned. I literally couldn’t win for being a loser (hence the title of the post).
      I was definitely an easy target for people. I remember getting ridiculed on a few occasions for things totally unrelated to swimming. I used to write poetry under a pseudonym and one day this lad came in and read a poem aloud in the changing rooms that ripped the piss out of me completely, even pointing out physical flaws. I felt about two inches tall. Turning something I did for fun against me in such a callous way, but of course it was ‘a bit of fun’…
      They were jealous and they were bullies. They were fucking horrible! I hope some of those responsible end up reading this and do one of two things; feel like the biggest cunt walking through guilt or dare comment on here and call me a liar. I don’t think my personality couldn’t be affected. In many ways I’m afraid of being good at anything because the teenager in me just expects to get called a show off. I think people might just expect me to be average and not attempt to amount to anything because I’m just being narcissistic if I do.
      Nobody will bully Caellum if he gets into anything. Not unless they want bullying right back. I won’t have my son worry about becoming something great because other people don’t like it. I feel bad for my parents because they did do everything they could to help me, but it was so tough because of my sister’s gymnastics. I know they’d have nipped the bullying in the bud had they been able.
      I might get back into it one day. I do miss it. The dissociation I felt with the sport has gone, even if the scars still remain. The scars weren’t inflicted by swimming though. Just by the people involved xxx

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      1. That’s all fucking sad Paul 😖 I wish you hadn’t had all that opposition and humiliation. It’s really shit to be singled out, especially for totally innocent things like being a shit hot swimmer with an interest and talent for poetry. Have you ever written poetry on this blog? I can’t recall you ever doing that. Could you write a cathartic poem of rebellion against the cunts from your past? Scars do heal eventually, slowly but surely. I’m really sorry you had all that shit from people. It helps me understand you more. I like the vulnerable Paul. That’s my favourite segment of you 😊 Because I’ve quit all flirting, I am also stopping leaving kisses on your comments ok. You’ll have to make do with Smileys 😁👍

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  2. That’s a lot of willpower and self esteem for being that young. All the work and improvement definitely went for something, growing you into the man you are. You seem to have a diciplined manner about you, maybe due to your competing years. It’s an awesome trait to have.
    Parents can be so vicious, right along with their kids. My daughter had to deal with a girl in softball who would regularly make the other girls cry on purpose. You can’t stop the asshats from being themselves, but you can teach your kids to have a witty, sharp tongue to defend themselves and others.

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      1. I suppose I’m a bit of both, depends on the situation I guess… I definitely have a sharp tongue… but I also often quietly stew for a long while before blowing up in instances that seem to need me to hold my tongue – like at work or something- depending on my environment. I am one that will usually stand up for the little ones/those that clearly are in distress… even strangers… A year or so ago I stepped in at a store where an employee was yelling at a small aboriginal child… my daughter is at least starting to get sassy and is pretty logical in her arguments (as logical as she can be at 7 at least!), so there’s hope! My husband is very logical and all about doing the right thing (sometimes we differ in what we consider the “right” thing) but hopefully they’ll both get a mixture of both our traits as they get older

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    1. Caellum is too young for me to have had to step in and defend him, but early indications suggest he might be the one I need to keep an eye on. He’s pretty bullish and if he wants something he’ll get it. Doesn’t care if he gets yelled at for doing naughty things; he’ll still go back and do them again. As much as I hope he doesn’t get bullied, I’ll hate it worse if he’s the bully.
      I do all I can to avoid confrontation, but find I wander into it regardless. Then I lose my train of thought somewhere in the middle of the argument and clam up. I can know I’m right, but my own natural self-doubt will always kick in.
      I wouldn’t say I was disciplined as such. I do take shortcuts and can often leave things until the last minute, but I do make plans for things that really matter to me and like to ensure the work is done properly. I’m a mixture of meticulous and sloppy

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  3. 😢 I hate how hateful people can be, especially to kids. You said perhaps you should have been stronger… at 16 and below… no. Sounds like you were plenty strong enough to even last as long as you did. The joy was taken from you and quitting something that had made you miserable doesn’t make you weak. I suppose if you had goals to be an Olympian or something, it would have to be something to put up with to get to your end goal… but… those fuckers. I just want to give them all right good slaps across the face! Perhaps a punch in the nose! 😡

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    1. I really don’t know what I did wrong. That’s the thing I’ve never been able to work out. I really can’t understand why they suddenly turned so volatile, but they did. I definitely didn’t imagine it. Then at Ramsbottom when that lad said why nobody liked me I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. He wasn’t being nasty, but I think that actually made it worse. If he’d have been being nasty I might have taken it as him just being a cock, but because it was said matter-of-factly I knew it was totally genuine. It’s a shame because swimming obviously rather liked me

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      1. I’ve been in similar situations so I can imagine the way you felt 😔 unfortunately people often tend to be jealous/threatened of others’ success. I can see how maybe the parents wanted their kids to be at the top… but I feel like I’d never be able to dislike a kid that works so hard and legitimately earned his right to be the best in the team… it’s hard to know no one likes you, no matter how old you are… makes me sad you ever went through that… 😢

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      2. It wasn’t nice. One thing is for damned certain; nobody will be putting Caellum through the same. I’ll have two loaded barrels ready to fire at anybody who tries to ostracise my boy or make him feel crap just for being good. The stupid thing is that Ashton could have exploited my talents had they handled me properly. I actually got called a turncoat by one of the parents because I dared leave Ashton and join Ramsbottom

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      3. Yeah I was thinking they were foolish to treat you that way and lose your talents… certainly not a good for the team mentality… idiots. And, I feel ya – I have very similar feelings about if my kids ever have issues with church people like I did … they had better be ready for the momma bear I will turn into. God help anyone that makes my kids feel that way….

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      4. It did feel good whooping their arses when in that gala when Rammy faced Ashton. They had no answer to me or the club, though I do remember feeling pleased when ‘Darren’ won his race. I’ve never felt any animosity towards him, even if he did remove me from under his wing. I think he probably did it to help me in his own way if I’m honest. I didn’t need shielding anymore in his view…probably.
        I’ll definitely regale Caellum with my story so that he knows to talk to me if he ever feels like he’s being ostracised or bullied. I’ll wade in there and destroy stuff, up to and including faces!

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      5. Such a good daddy 🙂 I know unfortunately I won’t be able to save them from every situation or heartache, best I suppose I can do is let them know I’m there and listen etc… and step in when I can. I also intend to tell my kids all about my negative experiences so they understand that I might have an inkling how they feel… For how badly the church hurt me, I suppose the experience grew me into the person I am today. Their shaming backfired on them; however, as it served to push me away rather than having me change to suit them. I am so glad you were able to get that satisfaction at least over Ashton 🙂 small victories, I suppose

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      6. You can only do so much. You only know what they tell you and the rest is guesswork. I’m hoping Caellum will be easy to read so I know when something isn’t quite right. I want him to feel he can come to me if he needs help, regardless of the situation. I’ll certainly tell him of any struggles I had. Luckily, he won’t have church or religion influencing the way he’s raised. If he finds god via his own means then I won’t judge or attempt to draw him away from it, but he won’t be told to believe in something that I don’t believe to exist. He won’t be told to believe anything at all. Belief is a choice.
        The problem with the satisfaction of beating Ashton was that it wasn’t really satisfying at all. It left me feeling even more dissociated with the sport. I think that victory over them might well have been the final nail in the coffin. So it was a hollow victory at best

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      7. I hope my kids are easy to read too. I know I wasn’t… either that or my parents were too distracted to notice. My little sister noticed I was in an abusive/controlling relationship, for instance, that my parents never picked up on. So really, I suppose I hope more that I can focus and not be too distracted myself to notice if something is wrong with the kids whether they speak up or not. I hope I can foster a relationship with them that shows them they don’t have to worry about telling me stuff…

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