With many of our students now moving up to swim clubs and triathlon clubs, esa magazine caught up with professional triathlete Tom Vickery to hear his inspiring story of his journey through swimming and transition into triathlon:
My name is Tom Vickery and I am an Elite Ironman Triathlete.
I grew up as a runner with little skinny arms that were about as much use in the swimming pool as a chocolate fireguard. I raced at a fairly high level, as I was blessed with good running genes (my mum was a National X Country Champion); I didn’t particularly enjoy training, but loved racing and doing well. I soon found out that this attitude only takes you so far. I particularly remember one National X Country Championship against a young Mo Farah, in which he promptly disappeared into the distance soon after the starter sounded the gun. The lesson I learnt is ‘hard work trumps natural ability’.
Just before university I got into road cycling, having been inspired by the now infamous Lance Armstrong. Cycling didn’t come as naturally as running, but is a sport that hugely rewards effort. Slowly, year after year I got stronger, faster and more durable. No longer would I blow up after 20 or 30 miles. Soon it was me pushing the pace at the front, not hanging on the back for dear life.
It was at university where I first started to swim properly. My girlfriend at the time was an Elite swimmer and with my passion for cycling, we entered a triathlon, (Swim, Bike & Run) a sport that brings our two sports together. It fitted well for me and in that first event I won my age group and placed in the top 5 overall.
I wasn’t the greatest swimmer and I realised this was the area that I had greatest room for improvement. In swimming you have to train smart, you have to learn and understand the biomechanics of the sport. It’s a lot more technical than the other sports. You can’t just bash out loads of lengths and hope to get better. I also realised that swimming is one of those sports that you need to be a regular attendee to progress.
My first thought in improving myself as a swimmer was “how does the fastest man in the world swim? I should swim like him.” At the time Grant Hackett the famous Aussie swimmer was the world champion, so I studied him with his perfect long gliding stroke. Watching him on YouTube and then trying to replicate his action myself. This did help me progress, but the trouble is that Grant Hackett is 6ft 3 and weighs nearly 100kg. Little old me barely comes up to his shoulders and weighs almost half his weight. Maybe I needed a different role model? Although there are some fundamental techniques that underpin the different stroke types, there are many different ways to swim fast and you need to find what works best for you.
Nowadays I have started racing Ironman Triathlon, the longest distance of triathlon racing. It consists of 3.8km swim, 112mile bike and a marathon run. The swim is always an open water mass start affair, which brings its own issues such as bumping into other people and navigating. My swimming is still my weakest discipline, but I have worked at it enough to keep me in the race.
If I were to have one message for up and coming swimmers and triathletes, it would be ‘Hard work wins in the end’. To quote one of the greatest sporting champions of all time;
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
esa wish Tom the best of luck with the racing season and look forward to seeing many of our young swimmers following in his footsteps.