Record-breaking swimmer Scott Houston is aiming to compete in the Commonwealth Games, reports Roddy Mackenzie
Scott Houston is fast making a name for himself by heading in the wrong direction. Yet there seems little doubt where the 16-year-old backstroke specialist will end up.
Having broken Scottish junior records and ranked number one in Great Britain for 50-metre, 100-metre and 200-metre backstroke for his age group, he could realistically aim for Commonwealth Games medals if he maintains his current progress.
His coach Graham Wardell certainly believes he has the ability to make an impact. "Scott is an outstanding talent in swimming. He has excellent skills combined with a first-rate work ethic and a passion to succeed," he says. "He takes his sport very seriously, and is continuously researching his worldwide competitors via the internet. He is focused and very self-disciplined."
A fifth-year pupil at Garnock Academy in Kilbirnie, Scott faces turbulent times as he tries to balance his swimming with sitting his Highers. He has to face the British swimming trials in Sheffield next month, to make the Great Britain team for the European Junior Championships in Portugal in July, at the same time as studying for exams in maths, English, physics and computing.
He also hopes to swim at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Australia at the end of the year, so 2004 is a huge year for him.
Scott's training schedule is mind-boggling. Eight sessions a week in the pool and four land-training sessions in the gym have to be fitted around schoolwork.
He has to rise four mornings a week at 4am to travel from his home in Dalry to two-hour swimming training sessions (5.30am-7.30am) at local pools (Johnstone, Barrhead, Neilston and Glasgow's Tollcross Pool are all on his early sojourns).
On top of that, he has Scotland junior squad training at Stirling university on Saturday nights. Sunday is recovery day, provided he is not competing.
Scott is fortunate that his headteacher at Garnock Academy, Brian McNaught, knows something of the commitment involved, as his daughter swam competitively.
It was agreed that Scott should sit only four Highers this year instead of five, so that he could have some free periods to catch up with his homework. The school has even set aside a corner of an office where he can study in his free periods and lunch hour and allowed him access to the gym hall whenever required for his land training.
As soon as school is finished, he is off training again and his early-morning regime means that he is in bed most nights before 9.30pm.
"I do try and take my books to training camps or competitions but sometimes there just isn't enough time," Scott says. "You get used to the early morning starts after a while, but they also require a lot of commitment from my dad, Colin, as he has to drive me to training.
"I train 22-24 hours a week and 16-17 hours of that is in the water. But I have been swimming since I was a baby and my brothers and sister all swim.
"Craig, who has just turned 19, is in the Scottish Institute of Sport at Stirling university, Laura, 17, swam right up until last year but is now concentrating on her academic work and Stuart, 14, is in the Scottish Youth squad."
Scott won two individual medals at the European Youth Olympics in Paris last summer and a gold in the 4 X 50-metre relay event. Such are the standards he has set himself, that he was slightly disappointed.
"Last year wasn't as big a year as I expected. I set myself targets that I didn't quite achieve and I worked hard for my times to be quicker," he says. "Had I reached those targets, I'm sure I'd have won individual goal medals in Paris but I'm still learning and I know there is more to come."
To keep up with his intensive training, Scott has to eat plenty of the right food and the Scottish Institute of Sport has a dietician to advise him. He consumes a lot of pasta, rice and cereal, and manages to resist the temptation of fast-food outlets.
"There's no McDonald's in Dalry," he points out.
Scott is one of several young Scottish swimmers who are doing well and he believes the next few years will see Scotland reap the benefits in terms of medals at major championships.
"When you go down to compete in English events, there are a lot of Scots now getting placed in races. Four or five years ago that just wasn't the case," he goes on.
"I think it is down to good leadership in the sport, and a lot of good coaches have been brought in under high performance coach Chris Martin, who is American."
Scott has already attended a couple of Great Britain training camps in Australia. Although he hopes to be accepted by Stirling university to study economics and pursue his swimming ambitions, he knows that he may have to travel further afield in the long term.
"America would be attractive as they have such good swimming programmes at their universities," he points out.
"Australia was an eye-opener in that every small town has a 50-metre pool and we only have four or five in Scotland.
"I'll just need to see what the next few years bring."