WITH the finishing line in sight, I gasped for air while flapping furiously against the water.
Exhausted, and feigning oblivion to being repeatedly lapped by 10-12 year olds, I lunged out and grabbed the side of the pool. Breathing a sigh of relief at my successful (albeit slow) completion of the swimming drill, I glanced up at the clock.
We were just 12 minutes into an hour long session, and I had only done the warm up.
This was the scenario that greeted me on the first hurdle of my 17 week (and 17 sport) Commonwealth Games challenge, which took me to Haverfordwest Leisure Centre to train with the Seals swimming group.
As a regular recreational swimmer, I expected aquatics to be one of the less strenuous challenges in front of me, but a quick chat with Seals coach Sue Christopher beforehand soon put things into perspective.
“We run at least 13 hours of pool time each week,” she said.
“Our youngest member is seven and our oldest is 29, and we cater for swimmers at both ends of the scale – from beginners right through to those looking for a pathway into one of the Pembrokeshire Performance Squads.”
Given the obvious dedication required to progress in the sport – I asked Sue how the Seals struck a balance between those who wished to swim for enjoyment and those who held ambitions to compete at the highest level.
“It’s important to cater for everyone and we are constantly looking at what opportunities we are providing,” she said.
“We always ask for a basic commitment from our swimmers to compete in galas for us. But we have some members who train for 2-3 hours a week while those in the county squad can train for up to 16-17 hours a week, which is a huge ask.
“That amount of training isn’t for everyone and we have to be mindful of that. But then again, if we have a child who has the ability and desire to push on, then we have to make sure they have a pathway to do so.”
Sue added that a number of youngsters who prioritise with other sports, including water polo, cross country, athletics, rugby and football, will join the club to boost their aerobic fitness.
All this left me slightly apprehensive as I turned up at the club last Wednesday to train with the DS2 group (two tiers down from the Pembrokeshire squads).
Observing me closely was Bill Carne, who took great delight in informing Gary Meopham, who was coaching the session: “This boy is always boasting about how fit he is so he should find this easy.”
In truth, my 1500-metre swimming badge, the pinnacle of my primary school water sports career, now seemed a distant memory.
The warm up consisted of 16 x 25 metre laps of front crawl (400 metres), at an apparently ‘steady’ pace.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the drill, followed by ten 10 lengths with a board, left me physically exhausted.
“Technique is incredibly important,” Gary told me, a polite way of hinting my own was less than flawless.
“It’s common for people to go as hard as they can and try and fight the water, but the water will always win.”
He wasn’t wrong, and I struggled helplessly as the youngsters breezed through a series of vigorous drills including dive starts and butterfly kicks. Overall, the session consisted of 51 lengths during the 60 minute time period, a total of 1275 metres.
Furthermore, Sue told me that club swimmers can often cover anything between 3000-5000 metres during two hour coaching sessions.
I’ll confess to my cumulative total, not for the want of trying, being slightly below that last Wednesday.
But on a serious note – the session taught me a great deal about the time and dedication that clubs like the Seals put in to establish a successful swimming scene in Pembrokeshire.
And it’s not just the youngsters themselves, with more than 25 volunteers giving up their time to run the club, and a host of parents and family members willing to travel at unsociable times to offer support.
And the club’s recent good showing at the Dyfed Club Championships in Carmarthen is evidence that the long hours are reaping dividends.
Swimming is a great recreational sport and can help people whatever their fitness goals. But just one hours training has left me in no doubt – it’s not a sport you can simply turn up and excel in. It requires hours of training and honing technique.
And until you are in pool with youngsters cruising past you without making so much of a splash, you can’t properly appreciate that!
Next week, it’s athletics with the Pembrokeshire Harriers and while I envisage another tough time from talented young athletes - I’m confident I can avoid being lapped in the warm up.
For more on swimming opportunities in our county, and the build up to the Commonwealth games, visit the Sport Pembrokeshire Facebook page.
Bill Carne’s verdict:
“Fraser deserves a huge pat on the back because when we went to visit Haverfordwest Seals Swimming Club he managed almost 40 lengths of the pool whilst the talented youngsters being coached by Gary Meopham and Kevin Lewis managed just over 50.
“It is a long time since Fraser tested his prowess in the pool and he admitted afterwards that it took more out of him than he realised. The big difference was in technique because whilst the young swimmers used the water to glide through it Fraser was using his upper body strength to carve his way through and met with resistance.
“And that is where good coaching comes in and if I had youngsters today I would be taking them off to a leisure centre in our county and getting them to join a club.
“But well done Fraser– not a bad start but there are other punishing challenges waiting out there!”
Tune into the Radio Pembrokeshire Friday Night Sport Show, between 6-8pm this Friday, to hear Bill talking to Fraser, and Seals' coaches Gary Meopham and Kevin Lewis, post the challenge.