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Swimming coach Richard Beresford has Toby Campbell’s undivided attention. Pic: Geoff Helisma

In it for the long haul

Geoff Helisma |

Fourteen-year-old Yamba swimmer Toby Campbell is poised to take on his rivals at the Australian Age Swimming Championships (April 15 – 22) at the South Australia Aquatic & Leisure Centre in Adelaide.

The Independent first met Campbell in July 2016, when he was “a little podgy kid” who harboured an unflagging goal to make it to the sport’s top level.

Even then, though sceptical about Campbell’s lack of natural swimming ability, his coaches recognised his will to improve.

That year Campbell said his motivation wasn’t about winning, but about “improving my swimming and fitness to eventually, one day, go to the [2024] Olympics”.

Come July 2017, he won two silver medals at the NSW Country Short Course Championships and made eight finals from the nine events in which he competed.

Campbell’s Yamba coach is Richard Beresford; in Lismore, as a member of the Lismore Workers Swim Team, he is mentored by Peter Harvey.

Both Harvey and Beresford rate Campbell among the nation’s top 35 to 40 swimmers in his age group.

Since joining the Lismore club about one-and-half years ago, Harvey said Campbell is “doing exceptionally well and he’s only getting stronger”.

“He’s a pretty down to earth kid and … I very rarely see people with a [race] back end like his – he just keeps digging deep, he has huge potential and he’s one of only two in his age group from the north coast to make the nationals.

Beresford says “he’s easy to coach; he listens, does what he’s asked to do and doesn’t whinge; he has all the good attributes you need to be a good athlete. He’s not blessed with massive amounts of natural talent, but he’s put in a lot of hard work to get to where he is.”

Six months ago Yamba physiotherapist Simon Ruse, who has three times been a physiotherapist for the Australian Winter Olympics team and once for the Youth Olympic Games, sponsored Campbell after treating him.

“I helped him through a little niggle,” says Ruse. “I could see he was committed; that’s the attitude you need. He hasn’t missed a session. I get something out of it, too. People who stick with the program and push themselves tend to be able to achieve their goals in the end, and I guess I saw that in Toby.”

Independent: When we first met you were a young man with a big desire; tell me about your transition from then to now.

Toby Campbell: It’s taken a lot of training. The training that I was doing [in Yamba] wasn’t just quite enough, because I was mainly doing freestyle. [Now] I do a lot more butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke.

I: Your goal was the 2024 Olympics; is that still the case?

TC: Yes.

I: Physically, you’ve changed markedly since we last met in 2017; has it helped you mentally, too?

TC: Kind of; I think it’s got a lot to do with school as well. Since I’ve been doing these high intensity sets, I’m still able to focus in class, plus I don’t tend muck up as much. The other kids are full of energy.

I: Have you changed your diet, too?

TC: Yes, it’s not a strict diet, but I certainly don’t eat as much junk food as I used to.

I: When you started, your coaches recognised your desire and dedication but were honest and said you didn’t have the natural attributes of a swimmer; how did you get past that?

TC: I guess it was, kind of, looking at the older kids at carnivals and seeing how fit they were. I told myself, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’ I didn’t really listen to the coaches … I knew I was a tubby kid, but I just kept training. I did cut down my diet a fair bit; because I thought, ‘If I’m going to take it seriously, I have to take everything seriously.

I: Tell me about the friendships you’ve made as result of your swimming and competing, has it widened you social network?

TC: I’ve got more friends up and down the coast – Taree and Sydney. Not from when I first started swimming, but while I was coming along. Like, going to Sydney and travelling to Lismore, I started thinking, ‘I’m going to meet more people’; and I have, which I’ve really enjoyed.

Campbell’s mother, Tanya, says supporting her son’s intensive year-round training program “has been a very positive experience”.

“He’s done two trips now, where he’s gone independently to Sydney, flown by himself, worked the trains out, marshalled, swam at events and caught trains to his friend’s place at Emu Plains,” she says.

“He has happily embraced and loved the experience.

“It sort of sets him up to tackle whatever life might throw at him.”