Former Largs swimmer Jennifer King made a flying visit home to inspire the next generation with her story of how you can follow your dreams through sport, writes Rob Waller.
The 20-year-old, who is training, competing and studying at the University of Missouri was invited along by North Ayrshire ASC head coach Ross Douglas to tell the squad of 2018 about her journey from the Vikingar! pool to racing against some of the fastest athletes in the world in America.
Jennifer was making a flying visit across the Atlantic to compete at the Scottish National Age Group Championships at Tollcross in Glasgow where she took a win in the 200 backstroke and a second in the 100m race.
Those who remember the early days of Jennifer’s career at North Ayrshire will know her speed in the pool has always been matched by her ambition.
“I left North Ayrshire when I was 16,” she explains. “so I could train alongside more girls and further my swimming a wee bit. Then 18 months ago I made the move to America and things are going pretty smoothly.
“I’ve wanted to go to America ever since I became a teenager – I knew I wanted to travel – so I started looking into it at an early stage and building contacts.
“I think it’s so awesome I’m in America because I’m racing some of the best girls in the world and I really do think it’s making me a better swimmer and I get to do my degree at the same time which balances things really well.”
It turns out Jennifer takes her studies every bit as seriously as she takes her swimming.
“I’m a psychology major,” she explains, “so I take four classes each semester and I’m hoping to go on to study law after I’ve got my psychology degree.”
That’s exactly the message that Ross is determined to pass onto the next generation.
“Sometimes in swimming the importance of academic work gets lost,” he says. “If you want to be an elite athlete you’ll find most high-performance centres are linked in with universities, so if you don’t get the grades at high school then it’s going to be difficult for you to achieve that aim.
“It’s something I’m really stressing with the kids - getting that balance right.
“You’ll find majority of Olympic swimmers are degree holders so if you want to go further in this sport you’re going to have to commit to school as well.”
While there are elite swimming programmes here in the UK, such as at the University of Stirling where a former NAASC swimmer, Jordan Hughes, trained, or Ross’ former base at Swansea, Jennifer was determined to experience a taste of life abroad. So, what does she make of her experience in America so far?
“It is different out there. The team atmosphere is like nothing else. Everyone is so team orientated! Even when we’re just in practice it makes you want to do it more because we’re all behind each other 100% in the hard sets and that’s probably the biggest change for me,” she explains.
What was she hoping the new generation would take from the question and answer session with the kids at NAASC?
“I just want to let them know that I was them once, this was my home team, and get to them to believe that they can do anything with swimming,” she says, with real conviction.
“I grew up with this programme, it’s a really successful programme, and it’s good for them to see that someone like them has moved on and done something pretty