In a new regular sports column Bobbie Makoni chats with Waltham Forest Gators head coach about the future of the club
The Borough of Waltham Forest Swimming Club, affectionately known as Waltham Forest Gators, has a rich history of producing top national and international competitors.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Daniel Fogg, as well as Olympians Jaime King and Martin Harris, have all come through the rigorous Gator training programme.
The club is currently based at the Sylvestrian Centre during the ongoing rebuild of Walthamstow Pool and Track, and continues to develop some of the best swimming talent in the country.
At this year’s Swimming National Championships in Sheffield, Gators team member Amarita Robertson took home gold in the 50metres fly, while Emily Iley won the 50m backstroke title in a time of 31.25 seconds to make her the fastest 12-year-old ever over the distance. Emily is now said to be a real prospect for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.
Earlier in the year Jodie Hull won the London Region Open Water Championship after a gutsy and hard fought race down at Surrey Docks and former Gator Phoebe Griffiths is now a member of the England Talent team.
Despite the phenomenal success of the young swimmers, the club recently lost its £20,000 annual grant from Waltham Forest Council, resulting in huge cutbacks and the loss of a highly regarded coach.
Head coach of seven years, Gavin Povall, admits it has been a “difficult time”. However, he remains optimistic about the future of the programme. “Lots of great swimmers come through this structure and the despite the sudden loss of funding we’re still producing fantastic swimmers,” Gavin told me.
While the development of the next generation of Olympians is exciting, the survival of the club is dependent on the ability to fundraise and gain new sponsorship. The Gators host three galas a year and for a small entrance fee spectators are able to watch young swimming stars from across the country compete at the London Aquatics Centre.
It is a great showcase for the club’s best performers, but there are also opportunities throughout the year for everybody to pursue the sport. Gavin is particularly passionate about the club’s ‘Learn to Swim’ initiative, a programme aimed at children as young as three.
Not only is the programme crucial for the development of the sport at a competitive level, it plays a vital role in increasing awareness of water safety among youngsters.
Although it’s certainly a tough time for the Gators, with passionate coaches and the support of family and friends – talented swimmers at this remarkable club is sure to reach even greater heights in the years to come.
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