Becky Adlington Helps Children in Bradford Learn How to Swim
Four-time Olympic medalist Becky Adlington has launched a new Learn To Swim programme in Bradford-based school Tong Leadership Academy
Why is swimming important?
It’s always been a big love of mine! Even when I retired, I was still so passionate about the sport. A lot of people go into elite coaching (or that side of things) but I knew I wanted to be involved at a grassroots level. The statistics around swimming are absolutely shocking. We’re such a small island, surrounded by water, and you cannot live your life without coming across lakes, rivers, canals and the sea in this country. But there are so many children reaching primary school unable to swim. It’s such a huge percentage that actually struggle and, while I really love the sport, we need to start seeing it as a life skill. If they do go on to love it, or want to take it up as a sport, then happy days – but it’s all about helping them gain confidence to get in the water.
Do you still swim for fun?
Yeah, I try to! It’s very difficult with two kids and full-time work but I love going for a swim when I can. I only swim for 40 minutes but it’s 40 minutes spent away from my phone, nobody can get to me and I’m in my own little world. I love it!
What was your most uplifting moment when on your journey?
Obviously getting to the Olympic Games and representing your country is very, very special – and it doesn’t happen to many people. The fact that I got to do that is absolutely incredible. To top it off, getting Olympic medals, and a world record on top of that, is something (to be honest) that I never expected. I’m from a really small town in Mansfield and I just wasn’t used to that.
Swimming is the toughest of sports with fractions of a second making a difference. You got to the very top. Is it worth giving it a go even if you don’t make it that far?
I 100 percent think so – because it’s a life skill. You’ve always got that in your back pocket. Whether you fall into water on holiday, while out walking, or on a beach – you’ve always got that skill. That’s something you can’t ever take for granted. Open water swimming and wild swimming has become so popular, triathlons are massive – so it not only sets your children up for life, but it gives them skills they can use later in life too. It’s very similar to riding a bike (once you know how, you’ve always got it). You might get a child who ends their swimming journey at age nine but they can come back to it in their 20s and 30s and still know how to swim. Once you know the fundamental techniques and can swim a full 25 metres unaided, those skills never disappear.
How did you find being a female in sport when you were younger?
Swimming is a very mixed sport. From the day dot, in swimming lessons you are mixed. The Olympic events are equal prize money and we are very balanced when compared to other sports. We’re very lucky for that. You go through your teenage years not always wanting to put a cozzy on, worrying about body image and periods – that phase is always difficult but you’ve got friends and teammates to help you through it. There’s always help, advice and support out there, and there are also great role models. You can look up to people like Jess Ennis, Laura Kenny and all these incredible Olympians that we now have as role models. It’s incredible that girls can look up to them these days.
How important were your family in your success?
Family are absolutely key. Swimming isn’t a cheap sport (I don’t think many activities are), so my mum and dad had to fund me. They were my taxi drivers, my nutritionists, my support – my everything. It’s very similar to gymnastics where you start very young. I was properly training from the age of 12. Family support really got me through. My mum and dad travelled the world with me – wherever I went competing, they would go and it was always so lovely to have them there. I wouldn’t have achieved anything without them.
What would be your best advice for wannabe Olympic champions or anyone who simply wants to try swimming?
My advice to all of them would be, go for it! You never know what you’re good at or might enjoy until you give something a shot.
Use the social community aspect: No matter what your age is, whether you’re a kid in a swimming club or in your 20s, you’ll make friends straight away. That makes anything you do a lot more fun and enjoyable.
Set goals: No matter what your goal is, it gives you a purpose and the motivation you need when you’re feeling a little bit tired.
Is swimming a good way to make friends?
Oh, massively! It’s such a huge community, and in some ways it’s really family-orientated. A lot of swimming clubs are run by parents and at a lot of adult masters programmes you become best friends. You learn, you help each other, and it becomes a social network. You’re not just going for a swim with these guys, you’re socialising too.
How does elite swimming affect your school work?
It’s like anything you do – whether it’s drama, art, music or sport, it will of course take up time because you have to practice. Nothing comes easy, or without practice. Obviously sport is very physical but if you’ve got a great group of friends, they’ll keep you going. I had an extra set of friends; I had my school friends and my friends at swimming. They were all really great. It was hard to stay on track with exams and work but I had great tutors who kept me on track and my mum and dad helped with that. The more you can communicate with everyone, the more they’ll be able to support you.
You have dedicated the last 15 years to ensuring children from all backgrounds are given the opportunity to learn to swim. Why is that so important to you?
For me, swimming is always going to be my passion. It’s the love of my life and I’m always going to want to get people into the sport because it’s given me so much happiness and confidence when I needed it the most. It’s given me so much, not just the Olympic medals. It’s so rewarding being able to give back. Teaching kids to swim is greater than any Olympic medal.
You have launched a brand new Learn To Swim programme, in Bradford-based school Tong Leadership Academy. Tell me more about this. Why Bradford?
Any area that we can get into that has a deprived swimming experience (or where there isn’t an abundance of local pools) is great because they really need that extra water space. The community need that. It’s great to be in Bradford, and to have them on board as a partner because, while it’s great that the school children get to use the pool, when they go home the whole local community in Bradford can use it to learn how to swim. On the launch day, 60 children visited for two hours and it was amazing to see what people thought, and to see the local community come together. A lot of people that came said their little ones hadn’t been swimming because they hadn’t found anywhere to learn, and for some it was their first time, but they absolutely loved it. It was amazing to see. We had parents worried that their children wouldn’t get into the water, but when they came out of their lesson they’d loved it. I knew they would!
What's your long-term plan?
We want to go into as many schools as we possibly can. We want to really make a change in communities. We want to keep building on that partnership and keep saving pools for children to use. I want to keep breaking down those barriers. Every child, no matter their background, should have access to the water.