Ayrshire Swimmers rewrote the record books at a highly successful Distance Meet at the Portal in Irvine, taking home 35 medals over two days of intense competition in some of the most challenging events in the sport.
One statistic alone illustrates the remarkable progress the club has made in recent seasons with 41 of our swimmers entering the races compared to 18 just two years ago.
“I think that’s a testament to the focus the coaching staff have had on the importance of competing regularly and that growth has been great for the club,” says Junior Coach, Alan Dickson, who’s been with us on poolside for over a decade.
“You can really see the benefits in training, the kids are much more motivated - particularly the younger ones - and that’s where the growth has come from.”
His thoughts are echoed by new Head Coach, Jess Wilkie, who was mentoring our swimmers alongside Alan at the end of her first week in the post.
“The swimmers were fantastic,” she enthuses. “I thought it was great to see so many of the younger swimmers stepping up to the tough long distance events and to see the seniors taking them on too. At many clubs they can be dismissed, or put to one side, and it’s something I’d like to see continuing at North Ayrshire because I believe it’s important for swimmers to have a range of events and strokes and distances in their programme.
“The swimmers took on board our pre-race instructions and comments, and most managed to execute them which is great to see.”
Club talisman Rory Dickson began his season in style by writing his name into North Ayrshire Swimming history, setting a new Meet Record for 15 and 16 year olds in his favourite event, the 200m IM. He took a huge 5 seconds off the existing record with a 2.08.95swim that was still a couple of seconds off his personal best.
As the reigning Scottish age group champion for the event (set in a 50m pool at Tollcross in April) the only surprise is that he hadn’t broken the record sooner, but he didn’t compete in the race at the Distance Meet last year.
It was one of four medals for Rory who also won the 800m freestyle in a thrilling finish, setting a 9 second PB, and he took silver medals in the 200m backstroke and 200m fly.
North Ayrshire claimed a brilliant 1 – 2 in that fly race with 15 year-old Fraser Kelly taking the gold with a new 1 second personal best. The most impressive of his 3 wins was in the 400m freestyle where he upset the form book to beat 16 and 17 year old rivals in the open event. He rounded off his weekend with a win in the 200m freestyle.
Abby Kane added another record to her collection, setting the fastest time by a Scottish Paralympic swimmer in the 200m breaststroke S13 class. The silver medallist from Rio set a time of 3 minutes and 36 tenths of a second in her race at the Portal in Irvine, to beat her previous best set in February 2017 by half a second.
The club’s younger swimmers also put in some remarkable performances. 10 year old Erin Moore stunned her rivals to take gold in the 200m breaststroke in a race where the entry times suggested she wasn’t set to win a medal at all. Instead she posted a 17 second PB, impressing her coach, Alan Dickson.
“Erin performed really well improving on her time from two weeks ago and using that experience to her advantage,” he says. In fact, Erin collected PBs in all her swims with a silver medal in the 200m backstroke and a bronze in the 200m IM and chopping a massive 25 seconds off her time in the 400m freestyle.
Another of the juniors being singled out for praise is 9 year old Kate Stuart who also achieved a clean sweep of PBs – nearly all of them into double figures – and was rewarded for her efforts with a bronze medal in the 200m backstroke. “Kate only swam the 400m a fortnight ago and she took another 10 seconds off the time which was some going,” says Alan. “Her brother James achieved the same feat in the 200m backstroke having PB’d at our Development Meet. That just goes to show the importance of learning how to pace yourself.”
James collected three medals with a win in the 200m breaststroke and silvers in the backstroke and freestyle.
There was even more for the Stuart family to celebrate with their cousin, Heather, collecting a silver medal for the 11 year olds backstroke and taking 16 seconds off her 400m freestyle time.
“I can really see the swimmers learning how to pace these events,” observes Alan. “It’s not just about racing - because the person next to you might be having a terrible race and if you just match yourself against them you might end up underachieving - it’s about learning to swim to your own capabilities.
“Niamh Hamilton was in the Development squad just six months ago and she really stepped up over the weekend and took on some big swims, including the 400m free where she got her first taste of that distance.
“Molly Sutherland had a tough year in 2017 and wasn’t able to train as she would have liked and she’s really buckled down and put in some solid training sessions and is reaping the benefits, setting PBs in all her events and getting a bronze in the 200m backstroke. I can really see that her technique is improving.”
The Chan sisters from Stevenston were also collecting PBs like they were going out of fashion with 10 year old Caelin taking a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke with a 15 second improvement. Younger sister Evie, who’s 8, took over 20 seconds off her 200m times in breaststroke and freestyle.
Alan was impressed by 13 year old Jacob Tarrans’s performance in a weekend which saw him win the 200m fly and slice 15 seconds from his 400m IM. “Jacob seemed really focussed and worked really hard in all his races to PB all of them,” he says.
11 year old Isla Waller was praised for gutsy swims in the gruelling 200m fly, taking a silver medal, followed a short time later by the ultimate all-round test, the 400m IM.
“I was really pleased with Isla’s IM,” says Alan, “She learned from her tactics when she last swam it at the Development Meet two weeks ago and she responded really well. Her fly in the opening length was first class and she was able to execute the race plan to achieve a PB and that’s all about race experience.
“It’s not that they’re any fitter than they were two weeks ago, it’s that they are better able to think the race through and attack it in different ways.” Isla also collected bronze medals for the 200m breaststroke and freestyle and a PB in the 800m race.
Among the other notable medal winners were Adam Currie who won silver in the 200m fly for 12 year olds and a bronze in the 200m free. He PB’d in both of those races as well as the 400m IM where he took off 10 seconds. Lewis
Gibson, collected a silver in the 200m backstroke and a bronze in the freestyle.
Kilmarnock teenagers Eve Mair and Leah Stark put in impressive performances on both days with Eve taking a silver in the 200m fly with a 10 second PB and just missing out in the 400m freestyle, taking 4th place in an open event against a number of older swimmers.
Leah won her 200m freestyle and posted double-digit PBs in her 800m free, 400m IM and 200m fly while Lucy Glencorse took a massive 25 seconds off her 800m freestyle and was 13 seconds faster in her 400m IM.
Evan Clark took home two bronze medals for his 200m breaststroke and freestyle races and was delighted with 25 seconds off his 1500m time. Rachael Grant was a silver medal winner in the 200m backstroke and collected a bronze in the 200m breaststroke.
Nathan Hughes was on the bottom step of the podium for his 200m breaststroke with a 12 second PB while Rachel McGuire made two visits to collect bronze medals for her 200m breaststroke and freestyle. While 11 year old Daniel Convery posted a 2 and a half second PB to collect bronze for his 200m free.
Among the other notable personal bests over the weekend, 9 year old Emma Binnie took 7.5 seconds off her 200m backstroke and 11 seconds off her 400m freestyle. 15 year old Andrew Sutherland collected 5 PBs in string of impressive swims, taking 23 seconds off his 800m free and a remarkable 22 seconds off his 200m fly. Matthew Shanks, who is 13, took 2.5 seconds from his 200m free.
13 year old Beth Hill was 13 seconds faster in her 200m breaststroke while Ella Bruce, set a 10 second PB for her 200m IM and sliced 7 seconds off her backstroke and 16 year old Callum Reid set a new benchmark in the 200m backstroke.
12 year old Robbie Gray was taking double digits of time off his 400m and 200m freestyle while Harry Hume set new PBs in his 200m backstroke and freestyle. Cameron McDonald took 5 seconds off his 200m freestyle, while Fraser
Mathie chopped off 9 seconds in the same event. 11 year old Eilidh Moore also set a new 400m PB as she recovers from illness which forced her to take time out of training.
Reflecting on the weekend Jess Wilkie says: “I really enjoyed my first gala as Head Coach. I was lucky enough that it was a home one so I got the chance to meet and get to know many of the people involved in the club. “I thoroughly enjoyed being on poolside with our excellent coaching team and I can’t thank them enough for their support and guidance over the weekend, especially with learning everyone’s names!
“All our volunteers did an amazing job and we couldn’t do it without them and if you want to get involved let us know because you’ll be very welcome.
“It was also brilliant to see us hit our £1000 fundraising target for the West FM Cash For Kids ‘Big Charity Sports Challenge’ in just two days and hopefully we’ll see those funds put to good use in the season ahead.”