Up with the larks to swim like sharks

Coach Alex Jordon, Katrina Hope and Caroline Brown with the scottish borders elite swimming squad during a training session at selkirk swimming pool.
Coach Alex Jordon, Katrina Hope and Caroline Brown with the scottish borders elite swimming squad during a training session at selkirk swimming pool.

WATER is not the natural environment for the human body.

Therefore, to swim like the proverbial fish, to cut through the chlorinated H2O like a torpedo on target lock, takes a special kind of commitment.

And the elite athletes in the Borders Performance Development Progamme have that in spades.

Playstations and parties are sidelined for these teens, who have set their sights on glories regional, national and beyond.

Some of them are up at 4am every weekday and, with their parents in tow, head for the Selkirk pool and a session with Borders performance swimming coach Alex Jordan. Then they are off to school – the older ones studying for exams – before heading back to their hometown pools in the evening for another training session with their respective clubs. Once they get home late in the evening, there is just time for dinner with the family and catching up on homework before going to bed, knowing they will be awoken by the alarm at 4am the next morning.

Anyone who has ever tried to get a teenager out of bed in the morning will know this is a fairly hectic schedule for kids of their age, and it can be fairly stressful.

But when they see the difference it makes to their lap times, it all becomes worth it.

Several of them are also reaping the benefits in competitions across Scotland – only last week we reported in TheSouthern of their latest medal haul at the East District Age Group Championships at Glenrothes.

One of the squad – 13-year-old Morgan Anderson from Kelso – dominated the field to take gold in the 12/13 years 200m breaststroke and finished with an impressive personal best time of two minutes 35.78 seconds, a huge six seconds ahead of everyone else.

He put his X-Box aside four years ago, determined to get fit.

He told us: “I always liked swimming and my times have improved significantly since joining the morning sessions. I have also made some great friends here.”

Also from Kelso, Lucy Hope is also doing well and has been selected for the age district team for the national county championships and for the Scottish Schools team for the WISE (Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England) Schools Championships.The 14-year-old back stroke specialist told TheSouthern: “I get up at 4.30am each morning. I have been doing this for two-and-a-half years.

“It really is making a difference as I got a Scottish title last year.

“It is hard work, but very rewarding.”

Lucy’s mum Katrina not only brings her daughter to the sessions; along with Caroline Brown, she also helps Alex train the swimmers free of charge.

Katrina told us: “I work full time, but I have a fantastic boss who allows me to start a bit later in the morning. For instance, Lucy has a physio session this morning, so I’ll have to start even later.

“It’s even harder for the kids as they have to try to juggle schoolwork, training and a social life.

“But the swimming gives them the discipline to organise it really well. And Lucy’s mates are all fantastically supportive, with one of them changing the date of a birthday party just so she could come.”

Caroline, whose 13-year-old son Ryan is also in the group, believes not all swimming clubs in the area are utilising Alex’s elite programme to the maximum.

She said: “There is a vast amount of coaching experience and knowledge available in the Borders and I don’t think every club is making the most of it. It’s detrimental to the kids, who want to train, but are not being given the chance, but that is my own opinion.”

And, of course, there are parents who take their children to the sessions and do not take part in the training.

Maria Waugh takes her 15-year-old daughter Kristie – who swims for the Teviotdale club in Hawick – to the early morning sessions five times a week as well as three per week at the Teviotdale Leisure Centre.

She said: “Kristie has been in the programme from the start and she is now swimming at national level. It is great to see them improve so much and it is heartening to see their level of commitment.”

And Kelso’s Tanya Mitchell, who escorts daughter Chloe to Selkirk four mornings a week, told us: “I certainly would not be getting up at 4am if she didn’t want to do this herself.

“Chloe is at the age now where it is make or break time. Alex works the kids hard, but they all have a huge respect for him.”

Alex, 35, is originally from Brisbane, and now resides in Clovenfords. His contract tells him he works 38 hours a week, but it’s pretty much unknown for him to do less than 60.

And he expects the same amount of dedication from his charges.

He said: “It is a standard level of commitment for swimmers the world over, however, it is not that common in the Borders.

“In other sports, if you want to compete for your country, you can get by with two or three training sessions a week. With swimming, you can’t really do that.

“Here in Britain it is getting better all the time, but there are some areas where it is difficult to get them to train as much as they need to. But in Australia, a half-serious swimmer will be doing at least 10 sessions a week from the start of high school.

“But what we are trying to do here is to get the swimmers to meet long-term athlete development recommendations. We basically tell them that if they do not train long and hard enough when they are younger, they will not have a future in the sport.

“We are not just looking at short-term results – they are a bonus – but we are trying to give them a future in the sport.”