Connor changes lanes to glide towards swimming stardom

Para-swimmer and ex-Priory School, Spalding, pupil Connor Boyfield with some of his medals and certificates.  Photo by Tim Wilson.
Para-swimmer and ex-Priory School, Spalding, pupil Connor Boyfield with some of his medals and certificates. Photo by Tim Wilson.
  • Teen overcomes disability to make waves in the pool

Swimmer Connor Boyfield (17) could argue that he is a suitable poster boy for the Olympic legacy of London 2012.

In addition to living with a disability officially diagnosed as congenital absence of the lower right forearm and hand, the ex-Priory School, Spalding, student was also difficult to teach, overweight and temperamental.

Connor Boyfield and head coach of Boston Amateur Swimming Club, Ian Wells.

Connor Boyfield and head coach of Boston Amateur Swimming Club, Ian Wells.

But the joint influences of loving mum Michele Ingamells, encouraging teacher Chris Allen and Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps have turned Connor’s life around dramatically to the point where he is now targeting qualification for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Michele said: “Connor used to be withdrawn and he always had attitude problems, challenging authority both at home and school.

“He also had some negativity issues so I took him to the doctor who suggested that I needed to get Connor involved in a sport because he had autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

“But how can you get someone into sport who can’t talk to people, can’t stand losing and won’t listen to people?”

Connor’s new year of swimming gets under way in Leeds this weekend, four weeks after competing in the National Para-Swimming Championships in Manchester where the Boston Amateur Swimming Club member competed in six races, coming second in the 200m individual medley.

A far cry from Connor’s first taste of swimming at the age of eight, purely for safety reasons and his mum’s dislike of large stretches of water, including swimming pools.

Mr Allen said: “Every child at the Priory School has swimming lessons in Year 8 and that was when I first saw how much Connor liked it.

“I was also his form tutor so I spent a lot of time with him and because we were both big people, we just got on with each other.

“All I did was have an idea that Connor was the right height, size and fitness level for swimming races, but the racing has made him muscle up and lose weight.”

Connor, whose head coach is Ian Wells, said: “I enjoyed swimming but I’d never have joined a club without at first being convinced that it was right for me.

“At first, it was really hard for me to swim having just 
one arm but when I started beating people and winning medals, I went down from 
being 19st to just 14st and grew 30cm as well.”

Connor’s transformation was also apparent in swimming competitions, winning gold in the 50m butterfly and silver in the 100m butterfly at the East Midlands Regional Disability Championships at Nottingham University in July 2014.

Michele said: “When Connor started swimming competitively in September 2013, it was the first time that he was able to sleep through the night since birth.

“He wasn’t getting up during the night at all, his eating pattern changed and he learned how to handle his ASD as well.”

Mr Allen added: “Swimming has given Connor something he is good at, something to aim at and something to achieve.

“At first, swimming was a diversion until it became a passion and as the success kept coming, he started to get more and more interested in setting good times.”

At the end of March 2015, Connor was invited to the British Para-Swimming Meet in Glasgow where he swam in five races after winning 50m butterfly gold and 100m butterfly silver at the West Midlands Regional Disability Championships in Rugby, two months after achieving the same feat in Nottingham.

Mr Wells of Boston ASC said: “Connor often told me ‘I can’t do it’, but I wouldn’t take ‘can’t’ for an answer.

“I encouraged Connor to keep trying and, as a result, he moved through the swimming lessons stage and into the club itself.”

Last October, Connor brought back a gold (50m butterfly) and two silvers (100m butterfly and 100 individual medley) at the West Midlands Para-Swimming Championships which were again staged in Rugby.

This followed a haul of six medals from the East Midlands Para-Swimming Championships in Nottingham, including two golds (50m butterfly and 50m breaststroke) and four silvers (100m butterfly, 100m breaststroke, 50m and 100m freestyle).

Connor said: “I remember watching the London 2012 Olympics and Michael Phelps who has won more Olympic medals than anybody else which I really liked.

“But when I started swimming in competitions myself, I didn’t think much of it.

“Then I moved up to performance level standard with (governing body) British Swimming a year ago which means I have to do nine hours’ training a week in Boston.

“I still don’t think that much of the medals I’ve won and I care more about setting personal bests and beating my own times.”

There is of course a price to pay for being a potential Paralympic swimmer and Connor, along with Michele, is picking up the bill in the form of 90-minute swimming sessions, three mornings a week from 5.45am until 7.15am.

Thursday mornings bring with them a two-and-a-half hour session between 4.45am and 7.15am, plus further training at Boston’s Geoff Moulder Leisure Complex five nights a week between 5.30pm and 7pm, as well as an hour on Saturdays.

Michele said: “You don’t have a life as a swimming mum, from getting up at 4.30am in the morning to cooking salmon, steak, tuna, pasta and sweet potatoes, all for Connor. But he does like a big bar of chocolate as well.

“All I want for my son is for him to feel comfortable about himself, to be a well-rounded person and for me to be proud that he’s got his medals.”

Mr Allen added: “I always had to pressure Connor to bring his medals into school and we had to tell him that he’s an ambassador for all the other kids.”

As well as the physical and mental demands of swimming, Connor and Michele also face financial commitments which can mount up to several thousand pounds a year, including club fees, swimming gear, gym membership, accommodation and travel costs, nutrition and competition entry levies.

Fortunately, Connor 
has a sponsorship deal with Boston fencing company Calders & Grandidge which could be rewarded with qualification for the European Para-Swimming Championships in Portugal this summer.

“My life has changed quite a bit and I feel much more confident, fitter and able to do a lot more activities without being tired,” Connor said.

“I want to take part in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan and break both the 50m and 100m butterfly world records.”