Going the extra mile

17th February 2006 at 00:00
In and out of the water, Hannah Miley has a bright future. Roddy Mackenzie talks to Scotland's best young swimming hope about her Games bid

Sitting five Higher exams is enough for most pupils, but not for swimmer Hannah Miley. The fifth year pupil at Inverurie Academy, in Aberdeenshire, is also striving for excellence in one of the world's biggest sporting events.

Hannah, 16, swims for Scotland at next month's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. This will mean missing the best part of a month at school, but Hannah has shown that she can combine her academic work with sporting prowess.

Last year, she managed seven level 1 and one level 2 passes at Standard grade and she is considering a career as a doctor or in sports science.

Patrick Miley, her father and coach, knows all about the sacrifices that have had to be made, but believes that a strong support network has helped Hannah in and out of the water.

She will sit Highers in physics, chemistry, biology, maths and English. She has just finished her prelim exams and, depending on her results, will decide whether to do all five Highers this year or split them over her fifth and sixth years.

In the pool, Hannah won a silver medal in the 400m individual medley at last year's European Junior Championships in Budapest. At the European Short Course Championships in Trieste in December, while competing for Great Britain at senior level for the first time, she came sixth in the same event.

Twice, at that meet, she lowered the Scottish record. So she will leave for Melbourne on March 3, confident that she can compete with the best. She is currently ranked sixth in Europe and 14th in the world.

Hannah knows, however, that she is dipping her toe into the unknown. Last month, she was in hospital on a drip for three days, suffering from dehydration, which meant missing valuable training time.

"I was out of the water for 11 days - the longest for quite a few years,"

she explains. "When I got out of hospital my legs were tingly and I couldn't keep still. I was desperate to get back in the pool.

"My target in Melbourne is to get myself into a good position so that I can maybe qualify for the final. I've been checking the times of my rivals from Australia, South Africa and Canada on websites but, having lost some training, I don't know what to expect."

Her father admits that without a close working relationship with Inverurie Academy staff and the headteacher, Douglas Milne, Hannah would not have been able to get this far.

"It's been a juggling act but the school has been supportive. The headteacher and teachers have been very understanding," Mr Miley says. "As well as getting study leave, they give her blocks of work to take away on trips.

"Sometimes she comes back and is ahead of the class. There is a lot of down-time when athletes are away at meetings and while some take the chance to sleep, Hannah gets on with her studies.

"I would urge any parents in similar situations to go in and see the headteacher, with the coach, to go over the programme in detail and work out what can be done.

"In many ways, swimming is a brutal sport, as it demands so much time and is unforgiving. But Hannah seems to thrive on it and she has a great mental toughness. I think her swimming has helped her academic work, as it has given her a discipline and an innate confidence in her own ability."

A typical day for Hannah would start with an early breakfast around 5.15am and then off to the local pool for two hours of swimming from 6-8am. She is fortunate that the pool is beside the school. Then she goes to the school canteen for a second breakfast.

Hannah is also in the pool three evenings a week, for a one- to two-and-a-half-hour workout, before returning home for homework.

Hannah is also supported by the Grampian Institute of Sport, which advises her on diet and any sports back-up she needs. Colin Gallacher, its performance lifestyle officer, will help advise on any education-sport problems and has even provided a laptop to help with her studies on trips.

In Melbourne, she will need to email assignments to her teachers.

Hannah has been swimming since the age of 3 and joined the Garioch club at 7. She soon attracted interest.

"We were starting to get comments from the age of about 10 that she could become a very good swimmer, but I didn't take them on board as I didn't think she had the mental toughness," says Mr Miley. "She has certainly surprised us. She is a gutsy competitor. She's up at 5.15am, sometimes even 4.15am, to go down to the pool.

"She is on level five at the club, which is the highest level. But even children at level three (who can be 9 or 10 years old) have been told they have to get themselves up in the morning.

"By the next stage, they have to make breakfast for the parent who is driving them to the pool. You have to give the children the responsibility to get themselves organised."

Hannah's next big target after the Commonwealth Games is the 2008 Olympic Games, where even qualifying for the event will be difficult.

She will also probably have to combine her training with university studies.

"I'm lucky in that I'm pretty disciplined when it comes to schoolwork," she says. "I spend lunchtimes in the library and I'm quite organised with my homework. I think swimming has helped.

"It doesn't help with my bedroom, though. It's always a mess!"

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