Nicki interviewed Stephen Milne back in 2014. After this article was written, Stephen didn't disappoint and won a silver medal at Glasgow 2014. Soon after, he was selected to represent Team GB at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and came home with an Olympic silver medal!
Today, down on Australia's Gold Coast, Stephen won a bronze medal for Team Scotland in the 4X100m Freestyle Relay at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. So, we thought we'd take a trip down memory lane and reshare Nicki's article on a fresh faced 20-year-old with all of the above mentioned incredible achievements still ahead of him.
Well done Stephen, from everybody at Small City!
I have to start this article with a confession… Well, two confessions actually. The first is that I never, ever watch sports. Nothing, nada, not my thing. I don’t follow any teams, support any athletes or get 5-year-old-boy-in-a-worm-garden excited when the big sporting events come round. Until now.
Because my second confession is I have turned into a bit of a groupie – not in the awful, squealing, throw your bra at the stage sort of way you understand. (The man in question is younger than my son!). But just in that fascinated, awestruck at the dedication, OMG I want him to win a medal really, really badly sort of way. And I kinda get it now; the cheering, the sitting up late to catch the race live, the painting of faces and emotions bubbling right up at the surface. I understand. I am one of you!
So, why after 42 years have I suddenly developed an interest in sport? Well, last year, with my Live Active Leisure hat on, I interviewed Stephen Milne, a 20 year old performance swimmer from Perth who at that point was swimming internationally and doing really quite well for himself. Then in January we filmed him as a PH2O ambassador and it was then that this soft spoken, unassuming young man converted a die-hard-non-sports fan. I practically stalked his mum the week he was swimming in the qualifiers for the Commonwealth Games and I have now revolved my end of July plans around sitting front of the telly for the 1500m and 400m men’s freestyle swimming.
Today, he heads to the Commonwealth Athlete’s village in Glasgow; I am like a cat on a hot tin roof and I have met him for a grand total of three times. I honestly have no idea how Moraig, his mum, is standing upright and functioning. Over the next two weeks he will swim a definite two races and a hopeful four. At only 20 years old this is, I’m sure you’ll agree, an outstanding achievement.
“Others have achieved this level at that age” you may tell me. And you’d be right. But what is impressive about Stephen is his manner; he has that glorious, quiet confidence that I’ve only ever experienced in a handful of people. You’ll know the type I mean; he is a wee bit shy, softly spoken and ever so slightly embarrassed by his own success. However, when you get him going and he starts talking about his training and his life in the pool, there is an assured, considered tone and you just know that underneath this quiet front is a focused, driven and assured individual who is entirely happy and at ease in his own self.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to other teenagers with this next assertion but I can’t help feeling that a 20 year old guy with a line like “I’m going to be in the Commonwealth Games” is probably one of the few people that you’d excuse if they did get a little carried away with themselves. But with Stephen you get none of that nonsense; there is no cockiness, no bravado, no “look at me”. What you get is a sense that he truly understands and appreciates that hard work and dedication allow him to wake up everyday and live the dream.
Prepare to love this guy by the end of the blog. If I have anything to do with it, Perth will grind to a halt when he’s swimming those lengths next week. Get your sick note ready!
So what’s his story?
Over the past few years Stephen has climbed the ranks of international performance swimming. And yet, he has remained true to his roots, training in Perth’s “shorter than standard” pool with his coach, Ann Dickson (who incidenctally has been chosen to coach the Commonwealth Aquatic Team – check us Perthites out!), and his fellow teammates at Perth City Swim Club. This is the same club he started with at 9-years-old because a friend was going and he thought he’d tag along. My mum always said if you’re going to do something you have to stick at it. So I did, and here I am.
“My mum always said if you’re going to do something you have to stick at it. So I did, and here I am.” (I love the simplicity of this!).
Such is his need for additional pool hours these days that he splits his training between Perth Leisure Pool, where he has been supported for a number of years by Live Active Leisure’s Talented Athlete Scheme, and Dundee City Aquatics who offer up some additional training time as a favour to Ann and Stephen.
As I mentioned already, he swims with Perth City Swim Club at Perth and enjoys his Wednesday nights with the other members of his club. Yep, training for the Commonwealth Games in our local swimmies! He is studying for a BSc Hons in Environmental Science at Perth UHI and lives at home with his family. His brother is a life guard with Live Active and is one of a group of only 12 British para-qualified swimming officials in the UK. His mum’s email signature reads “Sent from a swimming pool, somewhere”. With all of this, his quiet confidence and his easy nature, you can’t help feeling he is just a normal kid with a huge talent, a willingness to work and a family who are happy to support it.
In April, the first phase of the Commonwealth qualifying time trials took place at the Scottish National Open Championships and Stephen made the time for the 400m and the 1500m. Normally, that would be the job done. However, this year, for reasons which I’m sure someone will know, it was decided that they would also include the results of the British Championships the following week (10th to 15th April).
And of course, you know the result! He maintained a solid time for the 400m and kept his place in the 1500m to become one of 38 swimmers and 2 divers in the Scottish Aquatic Team. As an aside, this is the largest Aquatic Team Scotland has ever had at the games. Go follow them on twitter and facebook.
By the time I met him the following week I had calmed down to a respectable level of high and started on all the questions you’d want to ask someone who is competing for their country.
Number 1…. “When did you realise you were a Commonwealth hopeful? That you had what it takes to get to that level?”
He looks a bit uneasy at the unintentional praise. To answer would mean having to talk about himself as a person who is “at that level”. To acknowledge and discuss that he is someone who has stretched themselves past the realms of “really good” and into that tiny percentage of sportsmen and women who are exceptional still seems a bit outside his comfort zone. And yet, here he is, part of his national team representing his country on a global stage.
I push him a wee bit… “Did you think when you were watching the last Commonwealth Games that you’d be swimming in these ones?”
“You know, it was something I really wanted but it was almost a dream. I was only 16 and I was still at school, with little experience and not enough water time. Back then I was still thinking about medalling at the British Events. I think in some ways it felt unrealistic – my main goal was just to get more pool time!”
“And when did that change, when did you go from thinking ‘maybe one day’ to … ‘I could do this’?”
“Last year at the World Championship trials. I made the equivalent of the times I needed and I knew then. I knew I could do it.”
Since then Stephen has dedicated himself to ensuring that the moment of clarity he had at that point would become a reality. He has changed his studies so that he is now at University part time instead of full time and this has allowed him more time for both swimming and the all-important strength & conditioning training. Over the past 6 months he has been to training camps both at home and abroad and has won podium spots and medals at too many international competitions to mention here. He was also chosen by Live Active Leisure to be one of their PH2O Ambassadors, a £25 million sports project for Perth. I know it’s all about the swimming but that’s ok because I love what I do and I want to be professional and keep myself focused.
Since he qualified back in April, he has been in the pool for just shy of 20 hours a week and on top of this, he does additional strength and conditioning training at Bells Sports Centre. Leading up to competitions Ann works him in on a three week taper so that he has a drop effect. This means that come the 24th July, his performance will rise. He’s feeling strong and positive and he’s raring to go.
“What about the sacrifices? How do you find it?” I ask, imagining my 19 year old self trailing my hungover ass into a pool at 6.30am in the morning.
“I don’t really think of it as a sacrifice at all. It is a big commitment but for me it’s a way of life. I think it’s important to find something that challenges you and motivates you and if you can do this then you’ll find the lifestyle enjoyable. I know it’s all about the swimming but that’s ok because I love what I do and I want to be professional and keep myself focused.”
I am in awe.
“So… the big question. Do you think you’re going to do it? Win a medal that is?”
“It’ll be a tough challenge. The Canadians, Australians, English… They are all really strong teams.”
I’m trying to be professional and manage to stop myself shouting “Not as good as you!” Please bear in mind I know NOTHING about performance swimming. This is based entirely on my respect for his attitude, the fact that I like him as a person and the suggestion that he listens to his mum. With just that little bit of distance I now know why I was recently “banned” from Cain’s Art Exhibition Opening. I’m just not Cool. Not in The Gang. I manage to tone it down a bit…
“But you’re there with them. You stand as good a chance as any of them.”
He looks right at me, smiles. Eyebrows go up. “Well, I do intend to swim the race of my life.”
That’s all I’m getting. He’s off to train some more.
I urge you all to get behind this outstanding young man and give him your full support. I for one, will be glued to a TV.
Dan focuses on supporting clubs, improving the quality of coaches and also driving increased participation by attracting new players into football.
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Honor and Lucia Paul, Live Active Leisure Talented Athletes and members of Salle Ossian Fencing Club in Perth, Perthshire.
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