Moving south in pursuit of pool success

KEITH MACKENZIE charts the progress of young Skye swimmer Ruth Gordon

It’s often said sports stars should be prepared to go the extra mile for success – but in the case of Skye swimming starlet Ruth Gordon, it’s an extra 700 of them.

Ruth, still only 15, has uprooted from her home in the north end of Skye to move to Plymouth in a bid to push her swimming career to the next level.

Eight weeks into a four-year scholarship between Plymouth College and the Plymouth Leander swimming club, Ruth says she is “loving life” on the south coast of England. Her specially-designed training programme sees her rubbing shoulders with some of the most talented young swimmers from around the UK and beyond – among them the teenage Olympic and World Champion sensation Ruta Meilutyte from Lithuania.

The dedication the young swimmers have to show is impressive — Ruth is up every morning at 4.30am to get ready for a two-and-a-half-hour training session before the school day starts.

“The swimmers must be poolside for warm-ups at around 10 past five, and we are in the pool from 5.30 until 8am,” said Ruth, who was at home in Kensaleyre recently for a mid-term break.

“After morning training we have breakfast, then the school day starts at nine. After school we are back in the pool at 4pm for another two hours. Sometimes that’s followed by a session in the gym, or circuits. Then it’s dinner, homework, bed and we get ready to do it all over again.”

It sounds gruelling, but Ruth says that so far she’s taken it in her stride.

“I settled into the routine quite quickly, and I don’t mind getting up early in the morning. I’m one of those weird people who just loves training — and I look forward to it every day.

“Having the extra training is one of the things I’ve loved since I started in Plymouth. In all we do about 24-25 hours in the pool a week with another four and a half hours ‘land training’, which is circuits and gym work. The facilities are fantastic — a brand new 50-metre pool was built last year, and so it helps a lot to be able to train there.”

Overseeing Ruth’s progress is the highly-respected swimming coach Jon Rudd, recently named as the head coach for England’s Commonwealth Games team.

“I think he’s been happy with how I’m getting on — that seems to be the impression so far, and from what he has told my dad anyway,” Ruth added. “He is great to work with, and has a great sense of humour with all the swimmers.”

Rudd coached 10 swimmers at the recent World Swimming Championships held in Barcelona and Ruth’s dream is that one day she too can reach the sport’s elite level.

Her first competitive meet of the season is in early December, and in March she aims to take part in the qualification trials for Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games.

So far the 4.30am starts haven't fazed Ruth

So far the 4.30am starts haven’t fazed Ruth

At the moment Ruth’s focus is on improving her personal best time of two minutes 37 for her specialist event, the 200 metres breaststroke. Her current best puts her in the top two in her age group, and close to the top 10 overall in the Scottish standings.

In order to be in with a chance of selection Ruth would need to shave seven seconds off her best — but she’s determined that if she misses out this time, it won’t be for the lack of either effort or preparation.

“I have a wee bit to go yet, but I just want to do my best and make sure that, if I don’t make it, it won’t be because I haven’t tried. I’d love to make it, but if I don’t this time I’ll just go back and try again the next time.”

RUTH’s single-mindedness and absolute focus on her sport has left her in no doubt that the move south is for the best – even though it has meant leaving dad Peter, mum Marina and sisters Danielle and Charlotte behind in Skye.

“It’s something I had been thinking about for quite a while, and when I went to see the place my mind was made up very quickly — I knew it was what I wanted to do,” she said, admitting too that she will at times miss the input from her dad — himself better known in sporting circles as a Skye Camanachd shinty player — who helped her with training. “I miss having my dad poolside with me, but at the same time I know I have one of the best coaches in Britain in Plymouth. It’s a great opportunity for me to be part of a team with such a high standard of swimmers.”

Ruth is one of only two Scottish girls on the Plymouth programme, though her fellow Scot’s parents now live in England. She jokes that for the overseas swimmers the easy access to flights means they can be at home quicker than she can get to the north-west Highlands.

Nevertheless, as far as school work goes, Ruth doesn’t seem to have been affected too much by either the demanding training schedule or the change to the GCSE curriculum.

“So far I’ve not had too many problems — it’s all been A grades, though I’m not sure how long that will continue for,” she adds, with just a little hint of caution.

One thing she will find limited is the chance to speak Gaelic — though phone calls to her mum, and the odd interview with BBC Radio nan Gaidheal should certainly keep her well versed. Ruth also hopes to pursue qualifications in the language, should her busy schedule allow.

She added: “I’m really grateful to my mum and dad for what they have done for me — there is a lot of cost involved, but they have done so much. I just hope I can keep on improving and get the rewards.”

keith.mackenzie@whfp.co.uk