My best teacher - Sharron Davies

19th November 2010 at 00:00
The father who coached her through a tough training schedule instilled the Olympic swimmer with the will to be a winner

I went to Goosewell Primary School in Plymouth and then Plymstock Comprehensive for two years, but I don't remember much about it.

Throughout my senior schooling I was training six hours a day in a swimming pool. Swimming was all-consuming for me - it was the centre of my world. The school had to be flexible and the difficulty with a standard comprehensive is that they don't have that much flexibility. My life revolved around competing, travelling the world and working towards the next Olympics or European Championships, not the school syllabus or the next netball game.

So from the age of 14 I attended a private boarding school called Kelly College in Tavistock, Devon. It had a swimming pool and there were other competitive swimmers there. The school was tailored to us being able to train and get an education at the same time.

My swimming coach was my father, and I suppose you could say he was my best teacher as he played such a big part in my life. I was with him every day. He was the official coach at Kelly College and he coached many competitive swimmers, including Andy Jameson (Olympic bronze medallist and now a BBC commentator) and his sister Helen (Olympic silver medallist).

I was four or five when I learnt to swim. I was swimming for the county when my regular coach retired. There was no one to take over so my father stepped in. I was about 10 or 11.

He was very tough. I was a bit of a tomboy and when I was 11 I fell out of a tree and broke both my arms. They were both in plaster, but Dad decided that I couldn't miss training as I would be too far behind everyone else. So he just wrapped my arms in Tesco plastic bags, put them on chipboards and I trained with two broken arms. On another occasion I tore a ligament in my knee and for three months he just tied my legs together and I swam pulling them along.

I don't think he did it intentionally - it is just that he didn't know any better. I think now he would put his hands up and say he probably pushed harder than he needed to, but he did it for the right reasons. So any animosity or bad feelings between us have gone. But for a few years it was extremely difficult. I did feel that he pushed so hard that he just knocked every bit of enjoyment out of me. I enjoyed winning, but I missed my independence and freedom. I needed not to have my life mapped out for me and I needed some choices. I didn't have a family holiday from the age of 12 and he would often have me training on Christmas Day.

As a result, I couldn't wait to retire, which is a shame. I retired at 18, which is ludicrously young. I returned eight years later and swam in the 1992 Olympics. My first Olympics was in 1976 when I was 13. I won my Olympic silver medal at 17, and I last competed when I was 30.

I get my determination and single-mindedness from my father. He is very focused and a hard worker - one of those people who set up lots of businesses. He was one of the first people to portion chicken, dividing it into pieces and packaging it for sale.

There are a lot of things that he showed me how to do right, but also things I would do differently. I don't want to push my children as hard as I was pushed. My eldest is a really good rugby player and I'm absolutely determined that all my children have diversity in their lives and that they do lots of different things. They have learnt to ski and things like that. I wasn't allowed to do anything that had any risk involved in case I got injured.

My father is now 77 but is still coaching. He is up and down a swimming pool at five or six in the morning.

Sharron Davies will be appearing at the 2012 Sporting Legacy event on February 7-8 at the Emirates Stadium in London. The school trip is open to pupils aged 14-18. For more information, go to www.adaptabletravel.co.uk. She was talking to Sheryl Simms.

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