My best teacher

I found human biology fascinating because I was pushing my body all the time.

My school life was totally and utterly controlled by swimming. Swimming came first and everything had to fit in around it. By eight, I was swimming every day for an hour or so. By the time I was 13, I went to my first Olympic Games, so by that stage I was doing four hours a day and, by the time I was 16, I was training eight hours a day.

My experience of school is of teachers and headteachers who allowed me to come in late because I'd been at training. Then they allowed me to go home at lunchtime and have a big lunch because I needed to eat loads, then they let me off early or sometimes have Fridays off because I had to race. All the schools were flexible to accommodate my swimming.

I went to a school called Goosewell primary, which was in a suburb of Plymouth, nestled between the town and the coast. Mr Hedges was my second or third-year teacher. He was young and sporty and I remember him being very enthusiastic. He was always very positive about my swimming and about doing new things. He was the one I remember being a good influence in my younger years. He encouraged me to grab swimming by the scruff of the neck and run with it. He wasn't taking me to swimming or to play other sports, he had no influence on my success. But he was a positive force at that time.

My first swimming teacher was Ray Clemence, and he was quite important to me even though he wasn't a swimming coach. He was a teacher and he developed my swimming skills to such a level that I then needed coaching not teaching.

At 15 I went to Kelly College, a boarding school in Tavistock, and that enabled me to combine my education with swimming because there was a pool on site and they were very aware of what was going on. My father was the college's swimming coach, and there were many other swimmers trying to do the same thing. That made life a lot easier.

Mr Ball was the headteacher and he was very forward-thinking. He built the 25-metre pool and invited my father and me to come and swim there. He was the first guy to say: "We've got a school, we've got an educational system, how can we combine that with sport, and how can we help our sports people to achieve academically?" He was someone who made a big difference to my life because all of a sudden there seemed to be a bit more time. I was the only girl in the fifth form, which was good.

I could do all the extra work I needed to, and work on a Sunday, so I wasn't missing lots of school. The teachers were there 247, and if I missed Friday they were there on Sunday to do an extra class. O-levels were difficult because I changed my syllabus when I moved schools. I spent a year studying for one exam board and the second year trying to cram two years into one year at Kelly because they used a different board.

I was always interested in practical things, such as maths, biology, human biology, things that I could relate to. I found human biology fascinating because I was pushing my body all the time.

The person who made me what I am is my dad. He was my coach and he went around trying to get sponsorship. He was my driving force - he gave up his job - and I couldn't have done it without him. My mum was the mediator and he was very determined - a blinkered sort of person.

I can't say I loved school but I didn't appreciate it until I was older. Everything was so rushed and my whole life was going to school, eating, sleeping or swimming. There was no time for any social life and there was very little time for school sporting activities. It was a juggling act most of the time but the schools were very good about it.

Sharron Davies was talking to Yolanda Brooks.


1962 Born in Plymouth

1970 Starts competitive swimming training

1973 International swimmer for Great Britain

1976 Competes in the Montreal Olympics

1978 Wins two golds, one silver and one bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada

1980 Wins a silver medal at the Moscow Olympics

1981 Retires from competitive swimming

1990 Returns to captain the women's team and wins one silver and one bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand

1992 Competes in the Barcelona Olympics

1993 Awarded MBE

1994 Retires

2002 Launches her lifestyle website

July 2002 BBC commentator for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester

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