Tag Archives: GB swimming

‘I decided to text my coach and quit. It was my lowest point’

Ryan Crouch admits he came close to giving up the sport he loves last year, having grown frustrated as health problems took their toll on his confidence and abilities.

The two-time cerebral palsy world swimming champion recalls: “In December 2014, I had health setbacks that forced me out of the pool. After a few months not training, I decided to text my coach that I would be quitting. It was the lowest point of my life.”

But after taking a break and clearing his head, the Essex-born Paralympian realised he needed to be back in the water and doing what he’s does best.

“In April 2015, after a few other issues outside of the pool and health aside, I decided I missed swimming too much. Added to this, I was asked to compete at the Cerebral Palsy World Games and it was an opportunity I simply couldn’t refuse.

“For the first time in a while I really had something to focus on, and just four months later I found myself in the England cerebral palsy team and took two golds in Nottingham.”

Missed out

Fast forward to this summer, and Crouch found himself lining up in the 50m freestyle final in his classification (S9) at the 2016 Paralympics, having won his heat.

He finished down in eighth place, but just getting to Rio has fuelled his desire to compete again on disabled sport’s biggest stage in Tokyo 2020.

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Crouch wins his heat in Rio

“Rio was like something I have never seen before, the Brazilian fans were incredible, so loud and so passionate. My parents being there and watching me take on the world was so important for me.

“They have always been so supportive of my dreams and ambitions as a swimmer.”

The only sour note in his Paralympic experience came when the 22-year-old missed out on selection for the relay team.

“It was a big blow not being selected for something I’ve always wanted to be a part of,” he says about what is still clearly a subject that rankles with him.

“The most important thing for me is I was happy with my individual 50m and 100m freestyle performances in Rio, and it has given me a taste for more international success.”

Hero

As well as the family and friends who have backed him all the way, another person who Crouch hopes will cheering him on towards the 2020 Games is his hero James Hickman.

“The disappointment of missing out on my home games added fuel to the fire for Rio”

He’s never forgotten how the five-time world champion took time out to offer him some encouragement when he met him as a boy.

“I was just 11 years old at the time,” he told me. “I was training at Harwich & Parkeston Swimming Club, which was my club at the time, and he came to have a talk with us.

“I remember him sitting me down individually and giving me the most inspiring chat about his experiences and his journey.

“But the most important thing I learnt from James was to maintain the love for swimming.

“He gave me a motivational CD to play in the car too, and it really did all start from there. That is when my Olympic dream started.”

Tattoo

Having missed out on the London 2012 Paralympics, Crouch, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, celebrated his Rio adventure with an Olympic rings tattoo – a permanent reminder of his call-up to compete on the global stage.

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Crouch’s tattoo

“The disappointment of missing out on my home games added fuel to the fire for Rio, and it’s a tattoo I said I would always get if I ever made it there.

“It’s the biggest and best achievement of my life so far, and one I want to remember forever – the tattoo is the perfect way to depict it.

“My other tattoo ‘Forever Young’ is dedicated to my late cousin and grandad who supported my dream so much and were sadly taken too early.

“Every time I step into the pool, it’s for them and they are always so close to my heart.”

Coaching

Crouch dedicates a lot of his time to coaching others, and believes it is a major part of his progression as a swimmer.

“When I look back to before I started coaching, I was very young and didn’t understand the sport like I do now,” he explained. “These last five years of coaching has really opened my eyes to it all.

“Swimming can be a very lonely sport, like any individual sport, so the high points are something I cherish a lot”

“I love helping to improve and inspire others, it’s what gets me up in the morning, knowing that I am making a difference, and I definitely see my future in coaching in the long term.”

Having sampled one Paralympics, however, he’s hoping he’s got plenty more to offer as a competitor at the highest level.

“Of course I am aiming to compete at the next Games but for me, it’s about breaking down my aims into the short term,” he said.

“That includes maintaining my love for swimming and to go to the World Championships qualifiers in July next year and consequently make the team for Mexico.

“Keeping that burning desire for swimming deep inside of me is so important for me and any swimmer. Swimming can be a very lonely sport, like any individual sport, so the high points are something I cherish a lot.”

Walton intent on making a splash

Rio 2016 might be on the horizon, but swimmer Martyn Walton has already embarked on the road to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Like many young boys, he began his sporting life as a keen footballer, but after taking the plunge with his school’s swimming programme he hasn’t looked back.

“It’s a very humbling experience as I know not many people get to experience what I have”

“It was at my local pool in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and the instructors there asked if I would join the swimming team. I played football like most boys at that age, around seven, but since I was terrible at it, the decision of what sport to choose was easy,” he told me.

It wasn’t till age of 10 that Walton started to think about whether he could have a future in the sport after exceeding expectations at a County Championships.

“I decided to move to Hatfield Swimming Club as, at the time and still to this day, they are one of the best in the country. The following year, I won the two golds at the British national championships in the 11-year-old category.

“The transition to Hatfield and that success is when I began to take my swimming seriously.”

Excelled

Since then, Walton’s progress in the pool has seen him become part of a talented Great Britain team.

“I have competed and been on the podium for GB numerous times at junior level, and it is a great honour to represent your country in a sport you love,” he said.

“It’s also a very humbling experience as I know not many people get to experience what I have, so it’s an extra incentive to perform on a stage like that. I feel extremely privileged, but a senior podium place at a major meet is the goal.”

Last year, Walton competed at the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he excelled by picking up five medals. Did he exceed his own expectations?

“I was very confident entering that meet. I had my eyes on medals and I didn’t want just the one. Four were in relays and one individually, so it was great to be on the podium with team-mates and by myself as that was my first individual international medal.”

Pressure

Despite that first individual international honour, it’s clear to see that Walton thrives on the relay races.

“I love a good relay, there is something about the atmosphere and pressure to perform which is surreal. I have been on the top of the podium the last three times I have competed in this, even internationally, and I’ve shared those three podiums with my current flatmate in Stirling, Duncan Scott.”

“I’m not counting out Rio but it will be extremely difficult to qualify as my peak four-year Olympic cycle will come round for 2020”

Walton emphasises the importance of team chemistry in relay races. “I would definitely say it’s massive, and the fact that I know my team-mates and that we can trust each other to do the job required is huge to our success.”

As well as Baku, he was also involved in the British Swimming Summer Championships where he collected gold in 200m individual medley as well as winning silver in the 200m backstroke.

Exposure

But, at the tender age of 17, it was on that big stage in Baku where he took his chance with both hands, giving him a taste of what things could be like in the future.

“The experience was great and the exposure to the media was a lot more than I expected. Sharing the athlete’s village with Nicola Adams and other senior successful athletes was a great insight into what it takes to make it and the professionalism required to be at that level.”

The young swimmer is well aware of the challenges that are ahead with Rio 2016 in the summer he knows the task he faces to qualify

“The Olympic trials are six weeks and obviously qualification for Rio 2016 is my main aim, but actually there is an opportunity to qualify for the European Championships, which would then be my first senior international meet.

“I’m not counting out Rio but it will be extremely difficult to qualify, for me as my peak four-year Olympic cycle will come round for 2020. This is what I work for every day for and I know what I need to work on and where I need to develop, but I think patience is the key.