Hastings Seagull Club: Talent and Dedication
At 5.15 am on a Thursday morning – every Thursday morning – over 30 local swimmers, mostly teenagers but many considerably younger, will start their competition training session at the Battle Abbey Pool in Bexhill. There’ll be 10 to 15 minutes of warm up; then between an hour and two hours ploughing up and down the pool alternating breast stroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle, under instruction from a team of up to 12 coaches (the club has 20 in all); then some stretching by way of warm down. Then it’s time for school. But many of them will be back in the water at Summerfields Leisure Centre in Hastings for a further session at 7 pm the same day.
They are some of the members of the Hastings Seagull club, dedicated to competitive swimming. And dedicated is the word, for them, their coaches and their taxi service parents. As members of the Junior (under 12s), County, Regional and National Squads over 100 swimmers train five days a week at three different venues – Monday evenings at Summerfields or at the Claremont School pool in Bodiam; Tuesdays at Bexhill; Thursdays at Bexhill and Summerfields; Fridays at Bodiam or Bexhill; Saturday mornings (with a leisurely start of 7.15 am) at Summerfields. Juniors spend a total of seven and half hours each week in the water; County Squad members eight and a half hours; Regional (around 20 of them), nine hours; National, 11 hours. Add on transport and changing times, warm ups and warm downs. Not to mention competition days, mostly at weekends, when a club team of up to 50 or so will be dispatched by coach to pools such as at Crawley, Crystal Palace or further afield for county, regional or national events.
Apart from full-time coach Sacha Djerfi, born and raised in Yugoslavia but a British national for many years and former coach with Team GB, all competition coaches are volunteers. The club gets no financial assistance from Swim England nor any other dispenser of public funds. The families of swimmers pay their own subscriptions, both for training hours and for competition entries, and arrange their own daily transport. And what is in it for them? The dream, for a tiny minority, of Olympic glory some time in the hypothetical future; in the meantime the satisfaction of doing something healthy, if to most people somewhat extreme, with their young lives.
Lorna Tomasetti, mother of County Squad swimmer Ollie, seems in no doubt that both her son’s sport and the family’s dedication to it are worthwhile “for as long as he enjoys it”. She started him in the water aged three (they were living 50 yards from the seafront at Bexhill at the time and she thought it a prudent life skill to acquire early), and told him that once he had learnt to swim he wouldn’t have to do it any more.
After good early experiences at the 1066 swimming club there and some initial competitive success he joined the Hastings Seagull club. It means a weekly round of fetching and carrying, watching and waiting around, for Lorna and husband Kev, who both have full-time teaching jobs and share the bringing up of another son. But Lorna sees the benefits of Ollie’s healthy lifestyle – eating the right things, keeping active, learning a discipline and attitude of self-motivation – that many children lack. And he does not lack for mental stimulation either. When the Summerfields Saturday morning session finishes at 9.15 he is straight off to play trumpet with a jazz band. Sunday is homework day – or, for Lorna, sleep.
Presiding over the Seagull club for the past three years is chairman Olivier Choron. He never undertook competitive swimming himself but has three sons, Jean-Jacques aged 20, Henri 18 and Louis 15, who are all member of the National Squad, swimming respectively breast stroke, butterfly (or individual medley) and backstroke – presumably they prefer to not to go head to head too often in competition within the family. Olivier is clearly proud of his sons’ achievements so far, and mentions that Henri and Louis both won silver medals at the most recent South East regional championships at High Wycombe. But his main ambition is, he says, to make the Seagull club the best in the county.
He, and particularly his sons, are having a lot of success. However one principal problem is that there is no 50 metre “Olympic size” pool available for training in the Hastings area – the nearest is an hour and a half’s travel away in Crawley. Local pools are 25 metres only; all serious competition takes place only over the longer pool length. Short pool times can be a little faster because of the advantage given by pushing off from each turn; but conversely it can be daunting, both physically and psychologically, for swimmers used to this to find each length doubled in the extremity of competition.
I asked Olivier if there was any possibility of Hastings getting a new full length pool. He thinks not. There are plans for a new swimming centre to be built at Combe Valley along with football, cricket and other sporting facilities, however he understands that it will be a “leisure pool”. There is no funding source to make it otherwise.
Nevertheless talent plus dedication will surely thrive. Expect to hear more of both the Seagull club and the Choron brothers in the future.