AS SPORTS enthusiasts look forward to London 2012, one south Lincolnshire group has its focus on something slightly further ahead.
South Lincs Competitive Swimming Club has recently appointed a new head coach and is hoping that will make the difference in helping at least one of its stars achieve her full potential – and possibly compete at Olympic level in 2016.
It’s not unheard of: Olympian Mel Marshall started at the club, according to club chairman James Gray.
And if anyone is able to inspire today’s young competitive swimmers, new head coach Callum Lawson could be the one to do it.
Callum (26) was born with a congenital condition that meant he lost his lower right arm, but has been swimming since he was aged seven, and breaking British records throughout his career.
Callum, too, had his taste of performing at Paralympic level, qualifying for the Athens Games in 2004, where he finished a disappointing 11th after a bad swim.
Yet he had been comfortably seeing off competition since the age of 12 when he was Junior British record holder for the 100m breaststroke in his disability category. By 15, he was World and European record holder for 50m butterfly, 50m breaststroke and 200m breaststroke and was subsequently asked to swim for Great Britain at international events.
“At the time they called it world-class potential,” says Callum, “but I just had a bad swim at Athens.”
A couple of years later he was back in form and qualified for the IPC World Swimming Championships in Durban. He finished 12th at 100m butterfly and second in the 4x100m medley relay team, breaking the European record in the process and recording the fastest-ever breaststroke leg in a relay, a record Callum believes still stands. He also finished 6th in the 100m breaststroke.
An operation to his arm followed his graduation in sports and exercise science and when Callum was back in the water again he missed qualifying for Beijing by 0.01 seconds. Shortly afterwards he injured his knee while swimming, and was forced to retire, aged 23.
He began coaching, at Peterborough and clubs in Nottingham, but was drawn to the opportunity to work with and develop the 116-member club in Spalding because of the opportunities it offers for fostering future potential.
After a short time with Callum in charge of swimmers, James could see changes in terms of increasing numbers as well as results in the water.
Just as exciting, Callum could see potential for 2016 in one young swimmer, Chloe Hannam. She did really well in her age group at the British Gas Swimming Championship, which doubled up as Olympic trials for 2012, coming in the top 40 in the backstroke.
James adds: “That’s the challenge for Callum. There is the chance there, but it’s putting a programme in place to make sure she fulfils her potential and gets there.”
However, Callum knows from experience what it takes to achieve the extra edge a competitive swimmer needs, and training just because mum and dad have dropped you off isn’t it.
“Kids have to be prepared to get up and train at 5.30 in the morning before school. That’s what makes the difference,” says Callum. “Once they are here they have to want to put the work in. It’s about looking after yourself, not just keeping fit in the water, but mentally fit, and at times it’s really difficult to stay confident and positive when you get setbacks.”
Callum doesn’t swim at all now, partly because of his knee injury, but recalls: “When you are in there and you are doing well you don’t know a thing because you are in the zone. Everything just happens and you don’t have to think about it. I get the same kick now out of seeing the kids’ achievements.”