This year, for the first time since I became aware of it, I qualified for and joined the Irish Masters Development squad. I hadn’t been doing as much training in the pool when I first heard about it. I was still coaching and competing in Martial Arts, so I was training in that for roughly 3 hours a week and swimming for another 3. Later after my hip operation I increased my swimming, but also added cycling and running for triathlons. So, swimming was a big part of my sporting life, but wasn’t my main focus and my training wasn’t as structured and rounded as it is now. As my swimming training changed over the last two years, suddenly I started to see big differences in my times and the qualifying standard for the squad became achievable. I narrowly missed out on the squad for the 2016-2017 season, at the time of applying for my spot I was in the 30-34 age group, but that was September and I only had a few months left in that group before moving onto the next one (its done by birth year). I had the times to qualify for 35-39, but because the squad is created every September I needed the 30-34 times which I didn’t have. Over the year as I changed my training almost entirely I saw my times fall, to where I equalled or beat those from my days as a Junior swimmer. The result was that I ended up making the squad quite comfortably.
The first squad training session was in November in the National Aquatics Centre (NAC), so I made the trip up with my family and headed to the pool after dropping them off in the city (Dublin). I was excited, it felt a little like going off on a training camp, plus it would be my first-time swimming in the NAC. I was of course a little worried, because of illness and injury I had only been back training for a few weeks, and I had an image of myself suffering and struggling through a two-hour session in a 50m pool, but I figured it was unlikely to be too hard. At the NAC I parked my car, grabbed my gear and rocked on up into the reception area where the people working behind the counter told me they had no idea what I was talking about and that they had no record of any squad booking space in the pool. Not to worry I said, “It’s early, I’ll wait around for more to come”. Unfortunately, the one or two people I expected to see there never came and it looked like there was no one else there for the training. Eventually, after a few phone calls I worked out where I needed to be and got changed, got on deck, and nearly crashed into one of our Olympians when going through a door. Here’s a top tip, if you’re feeling pretty good about how you look in speedos don’t stand next to an Olympian, they’re built like He-Man toys, or this one was anyway.
By the time I got on deck a few more from the squad had shown up and I got to meet the coach. We were all given swim caps with the Swim Ireland logo and squad name, then we hit the pool. I aimed for the lane with people roughly my age. For the first time in a long time this meant training with people that were all going the same speed as me, a little faster than me if truth be told. This was refreshing, I hadn’t swum in a lane full of people going at the same speed since I tagged along to training with a local team in Finland. There was no lapping or trying to get around someone. The session itself was, thankfully, technique/drill based using only 25m of the pool. However, after an hour and a half of drills I was beginning to feel a bit tired. We finished the two-hour session with dives and sprints, which I consider a good sign of things to come as I need as much practice as possible on Olympic blocks. Hopefully for the next squad session we will get to use the Olympic blocks and not the simpler versions that were set up on the day.
Being part of a squad like this is very new to me, I was only ever an average or slightly better than average club swimmer. I won gold in Division 2, and came fourth in Munster a few times, but never made the regional squad. Now I’m qualifying for squads, qualifying for big competitions and more importantly I’m really enjoying swimming. I don’t know how long all of this will last, as a masters athlete life can easily get in the way and I could end up not being able to swim as much. I am therefore determined to savour and enjoy every moment of it.