Watkin, 14, hoping to create a splash in an adult world
By Kaveh Solheko
Our correspondent on a young swimmer who has embraced work ethic for success
LOUISE WATKIN knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. The 14-year-old swimmer wakes up every morning at 6 o’clock to do her stretching exercises and she is back from school at 4pm to do her homework and have her dinner before her day really starts.
To make it to the Paralympics in Beijing in 2008, her coach has told her that she needs to swim about 25,000 metres every week, and she takes her training seriously.
“I train for about two hours a day, six days a week, but I don’t let it get in the way of my school work,” she said before a 7pm training session at Caterham School sports centre in Surrey. “Competing in London in 2012 is my main goal, but I still think I have a good chance of making it in 2008, even though I will only be 16.”
Watkin started swimming when she was 4, but it was not until she was 7 that one of many hobbies became her passion. When she joined the Redhill and Reigate Swimming Club, Dale Simpson, the head coach, regarded her as a recreational swimmer, but in the past year she has shaved seven seconds off her 100 metres freestyle time and, in January, she was invited to join the World Class Potential Programme, which is funded by the National Lottery. Her upper-limb deficiency has never stopped her training with, and competing against, able-bodied swimmers.
“I have been coaching for 20 years and she is one of the most committed swimmers that I have ever taught,” Simpson said. “I would struggle to find anyone who trains as hard as her. ”
During a busy summer that has included the ASA National Championships in Sheffield, Watkin is setting her sights on success at the inaugural UK School Games in Glasgow next month. The four-day championships, which Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced backing for in his Budget speech in March, will be the pinnacle of the school sports calendar and have been designed to nurture the stars of tomorrow. Competitors will live in a Games village, take part in opening and closing ceremonies and perform in front of BBC television cameras.
“I love competition,” Watkin said. “I don’t swim just for fun, so I am really looking forward to proving myself in the 50 metres and 100 metres freestyle.”
September is shaping up to be a busy month for the swimmer, who won eight gold medals at the Disability Sport Events National Junior Championships in March. After competing in Glasgow, she will pack her bags and head for Kelly College, an independent school in Devon that has produced more than 60 international swimmers, and where she has been awarded a scholarship.
“I have had to say goodbye to all my friends at my old school and everyone at my swimming club, but it is too good an opportunity to turn down,” she said.
The prospect of living away from home for the first time may not worry the swimmer, but her parents, Berit and Allen, are still trying to work out how they are going to pay the balance of the fees. Both have full-time jobs, but admit that they may struggle to make ends meet.
“We have written to hundreds of companies in Surrey and all over the UK asking for sponsorship for Louise, but we just keep getting nice letters back saying sorry we can’t help you but good luck in the future,” Berit said. “We will probably have to borrow money from the bank to pay the fees, but it will be worth it because it is every parent’s dream to have a child who is so good at something.”