Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington talks to Melanie Goose about the importance of getting kids swimming, as a study reveals that 40 per cent of children can’t swim
At just 23 Rebecca Adlington has an impressive list of achievements under her swim cap, including two gold medals for the 400m and 800m freestyle at the 2008 Olympics and two bronze medals from London 2012. She was the first British woman to win a swimming gold since 1960 and the first British swimmer to win more than one gold medal in an Olympics since 1908.
Getting kids swimming is something very close to Adlington’s heart, which is why she and her mum Kay have joined forces with Speedo to launch a Learn to Swim campaign to encourage kids and parents to have fun in the water. ‘We should all commit more time to swimming and see it as an essential life skill,’ says Adlington. ‘I learnt to enjoy swimming and being in the water through my mum taking me swimming with my sisters.’ And when’s a good time to start? ‘As early as possible!’ she says.
Adlington’s training was a huge commitment. Did she mind making sacrifices or missing out on parties? ‘Not at all!’ she says. ‘Just early starts really, but as this was my hobby and I was doing it for my own enjoyment I didn’t see anything as a sacrifice.’ Her mum adds: ‘As a family we don’t know any different, so for us it was normal and not hard on any of us. I really appreciate the discipline, motivation and focus that swimming gave Becky, and it’s given her great social skills as well.’
So what advice would Adlington give budding young swimmers? ‘Just make sure you enjoy it – if you don’t enjoy it you won’t progress,’ she says. ‘It helps to go with people you feel safe with in the water such as an older brother or sister. Play lots of games with friends or family and when you are older make sure you have a good coach whom you get on with.’
How does she cope with the responsibility of being a role model to youngsters at the age of just 23? ‘I try not to let the responsibility get to me and always think twice before doing anything,’ she says.’ Adlington is very down to earth and genuinely appreciative of the support she has and the esteem in which she is held in her home town. Sherwood Baths in Mansfield, where she trained, have been renamed the Rebecca Adlington Swimming Centre in her honour. Can she imagine taking her own kids to swim there one day? ‘It is such an honour to have the centre named after me, but kids are a long way off,’ she says. ‘But I am sure I’d love to do that one day.’