As one of Team GB’s top female marathon swimmers, Alice Dearing became World Junior Open Water Champion in 2016, and earlier this year, she competed at the World Championships in Gwangju in the 10km and Mixed 5km Open Water races. Alice is currently studying a Master’s Degree at Loughborough University and has recently been involved with the Black History Month panel with The Telegraph. Speaking with us, Alice chats about becoming Junior Champion, being part of the Black History Month panel and starting her career as a long-distance swimmer.
Was there anything that inspired you to become a long-distance swimmer and when did you start swimming at a competitive level?
I’ve always been drawn to the distance events, and a coach, when I was younger, said that I was like a wind-up toy which could just keep going, ideal for the long events! The 400 and 800 ended up being my best events by age fourteen, originally having the 200fly and 400IM be my strongest events. At age sixteen, I was picked for my first open water competition for GB, which was my first ever open water race and marathon swim, from there I was picked for European Juniors which I won and then just kept at the event! I started swimming at a competitive club when I was eight after my mum saw their noticeboard at the swimming pool I had lessons at.
What do you enjoy most about being an open water swimmer?
I love how natural the venues are. As open water swimmers, we have seen some amazing and incredible places around the world, which the pool teams sometimes miss out on, and that’s just due to the nature of open water as a sport, it takes place in nature.
Can you tell us about becoming the 2016 World Junior Open Water Champion?
This was a turning point in my career as an open water swimmer, before this point I was unsure if I would go that way or go down the pool swimming route. So naturally, when I won, it was a clear indication that I should pursue this event. Furthermore, it was my last shot at junior swimming which had been quite successful for me (European Junior Champion in 2013 & third place in 2015). It was also a chance at redemption because in 2014 I came fourth at the World Junior Open Water Championships, missing out on a medal by less than a second, so when I had a chance to right things, I wasn’t going to let it slip away.
How did you find the experience at the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow?
As an open water swimmer we rarely compete on home soil, and very rarely in a international context, so to be able to swim for GB in Great Britain was a great honour which I enjoyed a lot. Having a home crowd always adds to the atmosphere.
You attended this year’s World Championships at Gwangju, how did this event go for you?
There were mixed feelings from this event. I placed outside of the top ten meaning that I did not meet the qualification for the Olympics which was the goal of the season so, of course, I was upset about this. However, it was promising in the fact that I was only fifteen seconds off the top ten, and only eighteen off a medal, which over 10KM is not a long way. This was the closest I have been to the top in a major meet and there were a lot of positives to take away from the swim. But ultimately, the results mean that I have to still concentrate on qualifying for the Olympics instead of training for the Olympics.
How do you stay focused during a race?
This is something which I have struggled with in the past. As a 10KM swim takes roughly two hours for the women to complete, there is scope to lose concentration and affect the strength of your performance. When I first started out I would lose concentration often and suddenly find myself in a poor position and that things have changed suddenly as open water is very dynamic. However, I made it one of my goals to concentrate more each race, and as I have gotten older and more experienced, this issue has dwindled and now I find I am so in tune to what is happening, the race feels much shorter than two hours!
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your career?
So far it has been managing the ‘dual-career’ lifestyle of being both a swimmer and a student, which I have done for the entirety of my swimming career (about fourteen years now). But as I’ve gotten older, my time management skills have developed and managing the two aspects of my life, whilst sometimes difficult, is always rewarding.
What will your next competition be and how does your training change in the lead-up to an event?
In the pool I’m competing at BUCS (British University Championships) later this month which is always a fun competition because it is one of the rare times as a swimmer that we race as a team to gain points. On the open water/marathon swimming side, there is a World Cup leg in February which will set off the season. As I’m leading up to a marathon, the training does not drastically change as there would be no benefit in dropping intensity or meters, immediately before the competition (one/two days) however, everything is very easy.
Is there any part of training you’ll be focusing on the most over the next few months?
Just trying to get my fitness as high as possible so I’m in the best shape I can be when the trials come round. Marathon swimming is a very dynamic event, whilst long, you also need to be able to put in bursts of speed in order to execute race plans successfully, having good speed is always a part of my training.
How do you fit training around studying at university?
Luckily, Loughborough is really good for this, and have made allowances for me when I have had to miss lectures or even exams to be able to compete. As I am doing my Masters now, I am comfortable enough with the balance of the two and know how to prioritise my time. I still have a good chunk of free time to relax which is just as important as training and study to me.
What encouraged you to attend Loughborough University?
The sporting history is unapparelled and it is also a very good university! I studied Politics with a minor in English at undergrad and I’m currently doing a Masters in Social Media and Political Communication. The fact that I could do both swimming and academics alongside each other in a place which is outstanding for both aspects was an obvious choice when picking universities.
Do you enjoy other sports, and what would you be doing if you hadn’t got into swimming?
At the moment I’m really enjoying bouldering and do that weekly as part of my training. However, beyond that, I’m not really that sporty! I always like to imagine that I would have done athletics, though I don’t know what event… Swimming has been a part of my life for so long now, it’s hard to imagine what I would have done with the time when I was younger.
Can you tell us what you enjoyed about being part of the special Black History Month panel at The Telegraph?
This was a really cool experience. The topics we discussed were so enlightening and it was really nice to hear from two other sports and perspectives which I have never known much about. Ironically, I think we left with more questions than answers, but I believe this will be the case for a while when looking at race in sport, as there are still so many issues affecting so many sports.
As the only black swimmer for Team GB, what would you say to other black swimmers wanting to swim at a competitive level?
Just go for it! There are hundreds of clubs across the country who would love to have you as a member and have different levels for you to swim at. It’s a very rewarding experience which allows you to take it as seriously as you would like. Don’t let being a potential minority discourage you, there’s a lot to gain from this sport and I’d hate to see people miss out on the opportunity to access that.
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