Tim Hodge

📷 : Delly Carr

Since Tim Hodge made his Commonwealth Games debut in 2018 at a home games at the Gold Coast winning Silver in the SB7 100m Breaststroke, he once again represented Team Australia in Birmingham earlier this year, becoming Commonwealth champion when he won Gold in the S9 100m Backstroke and he also won Silver in the SB8 100m Breaststroke. At the World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira in June, Tim won Gold in the S9 200m Individual Medley and in the 4×100 Medley Relay alongside his Australian teammates Keira Stephens, Emily Beecroft and Matthew Levy and Bronze in the S9 100m Backstroke. Last year, Tim was in the Australian team at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, winning Silver in the SM9 200m Individual Medley and 4×100 Mixed Medley Relay and he won Bronze in the S19 100m Backstroke, having already represented Team Australia at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Tim was named Young Athlete of the Year with a Disability at the 2018 and 2021 NSW Champions of Sports Awards, and he is hoping to compete at the 2023 World Para Swimming Championships as well as further Paralympics. We caught up with Tim about competing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, his time at the World Para Swimming Championships in June and representing Team Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games last year.

What was it like competing at the Commonwealth Games this year in Birmingham and what did you enjoy most about staying in the athletes village?

This year’s Commonwealth Games were incredible, as we finally had a full crowd to watch and cheer us on, which is something we haven’t been able to experience for the last few years. The village unfortunately wasn’t ready for us, so we were staying in a delocalised format, with the swimming team staying in student accommodation at the University of Birmingham, along with four or five other sports, with the other sports spread around Birmingham and London. The best part about the village for me was the comradery of the Australian team. The team organisers had created covered recreation areas outside the Aus team buildings, where we could sit in bean bags and chairs, and we could chat with other Aus athletes from all different sports, and we could watch the different sports compete on the TVs that we had, which made us feel like a connected and supportive team.

How was it winning Gold in the S9 100m Backstroke and Silver in the SB8 100m Breaststroke?

Winning Gold in the 100 Backstroke S9 was amazing. I was hoping to swim a good time, but winning the Gold in a Commonwealth record was a bonus. I knew I had a chance going into the race, but it’s very easy to get distracted by wanting to win rather than swimming your best. Seeing a 1 against my name showed me that I’m definitely on a good path towards Paris 2024.

I knew the 100m Breaststroke SB8 was going to be a very competitive race, and I had to put together my best possible race if I wanted to medal. Winning a Silver with a PB time was great, as I have been working very hard on my breaststroke, particularly for my IM, and swimming a new PB gives me the confidence that I’m progressing in both my 100 Breaststroke and my 200 IM.

How did you prepare for your races and how was it being selected to represent Team Australia in Birmingham?

My coach and I have drilled race prep multiple times in training and at smaller meets this year, so that I would be able to complete my prep at Comm Games, despite all the distractions and delays that often happen at meets of this calibre. A big part of my race prep is getting the mental attitude correct, as feeling too much pressure to win or entering the call room with a bad attitude can lose a race before you’ve even swum. So we have been working on training under harder conditions than a race, while targeting similar times as my race splits, so that I can be confident that I can perform even under difficult conditions.

Being selected onto the Australian team is always a huge honour, whether it was my first Aus team or my tenth, like these Games were. Unlike World Championships though, on the Aus Comm Games team, we are a part of a much larger team, across a range of sports. This makes us feel like we’re supported at home and in Birmingham, by our teammates, families and friends. It is also a great achievement to put on the green and gold, and we want to make our country proud of us and our achievements.

How different did you find the experience competing at this year’s Commonwealth Games opposed to your debut Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in 2018?

This year’s Games were very similar to Gold Coast in 2018, with the village situation and the lack of a home crowd being the only real differences. In a large Games village like 2018, it is very easy to feel alone or overwhelmed when you’re surrounded by athletes from all different countries, some of whom you are expected to outperform when it comes to race day. In Birmingham, the Aus team was always together, and that support was more noticeable as the Aus athletes spent more time surrounded by our teammates. Similarly, the crowd was great, but they did cheer a little louder for the British athletes, and we didn’t have a “home ground” advantage. Still, it was a great Games.

What are some of your favourite memories from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which saw you win Silver in the SB7 100m Breaststroke, and how was it competing in front of a home crowd at a major international multi-sports event?

Some of my favourite memories from Gold Coast 2018 were being a part of an Aussie Trifecta in both my 100 Backstroke and 100 Breaststroke. Also, having a major international event at home means that we have a huge Australian crowd cheering us on, giving us the confidence to go that little bit extra in our race. Being my first Commonwealth Games, and first time competing in front of an Aussie crowd, I enjoyed every moment, especially the roar of the crowd when my name was announced and I walked onto pool deck.

📷 : Delly Carr

You competed at the 2022 World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira in June, how was your time competing in Madeira?

Competing in Madeira at the 2022 Para World Championships was a great experience, and I was lucky enough to walk away with one Gold and one Bronze from individual races, and one Gold from the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay, along with a World Record in the 200 Individual Medley SM9 class. I went into the event with target times that I wanted to swim, and I felt good in the water. I was lucky enough to break one of Para Swimming’s oldest World Records, held previously by the most successful Australian Paralympian in history, Matthew Cowdrey. My coach and I were very happy with my World Champs performance, and I am excited to see how far I can progress leading into Paris 2024.

Can you tell us what it was like winning Gold in the S9 200m Individual Medley and Bronze in the S9 100m Backstroke?

Going into the 200 IM, I was confident in doing a good time, as my coach and I had worked very hard on it leading into Worlds, and I had developed a race plan to target the weakest areas of my race. The heats gave me the opportunity to test some things we had developed in training, but save my best performance for the final. I hoped that my time was going to be good, but I was shocked when I turned around and saw I had broken the World Record by about 0.2 seconds. Singing the Australian Anthem and watching the Australian flag raise gave me a great feeling of accomplishment, which I want to experience as many times as possible. My 100 Backstroke was a very competitive event, and I knew this was going to be the case going in. My focus was on putting my best swim together and worrying about medals after the race, to avoid wasting energy on thinking about medals. I was very happy winning Bronze, and it gave me the drive to want to improve for next year and aim for Silver or Gold.

How was it winning Gold in the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay with your Australian teammates Keira Stephens, Emily Beecroft and Matthew Levy and what do you enjoy most about competing in relays?

The Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay was a new event this year, with there historically being separate men’s and women’s relays. Being a new event, the field was filled with unknowns, and we knew anyone could win. We put a good performance down in the heats so we would feel confident going into the final, but we never really expected to win Gold. Going into the final, we were nervous, as a lot of other strong countries had different teams for the finals, meaning that they would likely be faster than the heats team. Watching Matt Levy overtake the leader and power home in the last 15 was one of the best feelings ever. And the feeling of singing the anthem with three other Aussies beside me is something that I will always remember.

Relays are always held in high esteem, as to be selected for a relay means that you have proven yourself to be the best choice to the team managers and coaches who selected you. You are representing both your country and the fellow athletes in your relay, and you feel like you want to give your best performance so that they will have the best opportunity when they dive in.

What was it like competing at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and returning to major international competitions after the pandemic paused events?

The Tokyo Paralympic Games had been very uncertain for a long time in the lead-up, as it had already been delayed a year due to COVID, and we were being told every day that rules were changing due to COVID. When we were finally flying into Tokyo to start the Games, we were all a bit relieved that Tokyo 2020 was finally going ahead, and we would have the chance to compete and represent our country. Experiencing the Tokyo village and competition venues was amazing, as the organisers had done their best to give us an amazing Games, despite the restrictions. Also, the Australian team as a whole worked together more closely as a result of these restrictions, and we felt more like a united team during the Games. This was a little different from Rio 2016, but it made the Games more enjoyable for our team, despite the restrictions. The lack of a crowd was a bit disappointing, but for some of the younger athletes, I believe it also put less pressure on them, as there weren’t 10,000 pairs of eyes watching their every move from the stands. These Games also gave the Australian public a lot of hope, as they had the opportunity to watch and support us while they were locked down at home, giving them an escape from the difficult situation at home.

After competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, how was it being selected for your second Paralympics and this time winning Silver in the SM9 200m Individual Medley and the 4x100m Mixed Medley Relay, and Bronze in the S9 100m Backstroke?

Being selected for my second Paralympics after having competed at Rio 2016 was a great feeling, as I was proud to be chosen again to represent my country, and I was excited to experience the environment and competition of another Paralympics. Coming home with two Silvers in the 200 IM and 4x100m Medley Relay, and a Bronze in the 100m Backstroke, made me even prouder, as my hard work since Rio had paid off in the best possible way, and I was confident that I represented Australia to the best of my ability.

Can you tell us about some of your other stand-out highlights over your swimming career so far?

Some of my career highlights include having my name announced when I made my first team, and being seated next to swimming legend Grant Hackett for the full team photo. Another one would be my first major international medal in the Men’s 100m Breaststroke at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Finally, it would be my Gold medal and World Record in the 200 IM at the 2022 World Championships.

📷 : Delly Carr

Where does your love of swimming come from and how did you start?

I first started swimming when I was five years old, shortly after my right foot was amputated when I was four-and-a-half. My parents put me into swimming because we had a pool in the backyard, and they wanted me to be able to swim to save myself if I fell in. Also, swimming was a good form of rehabilitation after my amputation. I competed at my first school carnival when I was nine, and I made it all the way to State Championships where I didn’t make it through to the next level, but I really wanted to come back next year and swim faster so I would be selected for the NSW School team to go to the National Championships. So, I started training more with a competitive squad, and my coach at the time introduced me to club swimming, where I could compete at meets like area carnivals, all the way up to National Championships and Australian Team Trials.

These opportunities were what kickstarted my love for swimming, and I wanted to try my best, train harder, and get faster each year.

What is a typical training day for you and how often do you train?

A typical training day for me involves waking up at 4am to have breakfast, then head to the pool. We start with 15 minutes of activation and stretching, then in the water at 5am for a two-hour session. For difficult sessions, we might have 30 minutes of recovery afterwards, involving stretching, trigger-point and foam rolling, and occasional cold showers and ice baths after really strenuous sets. After this, I head home to get ready for uni classes, which usually start around 9-10am. In between these, I work on assignments or study for upcoming exams, and complete any online anti-doping or other courses required by Swimming Australia as part of the Aus Swim Team. I try to also get around 30 minutes to one hour to nap just after lunch to recover and give me more energy for the afternoon. I leave home at 3:15pm for training in the afternoon. We stretch and activate for 30 minutes, and get in the water at 4pm for our second two-hour session of the day, and recovery afterwards as well. If one session during the day is hard, usually the other will be lighter skills and recovery so as to no overwork us. I’m back home for dinner by 7pm, and I get to relax until bedtime at about 9:30pm, and then up at 4am the next day.

You were named the Young Athlete of the Year with a Disability at the 2021 NSW Champions of Sport Awards, how was it winning for the second time after being named the winner in 2018?

Winning Young Athlete of the Year with a Disability in 2021 was an incredible honour, just as it was in 2018. The number of para-athletes in NSW and their achievements have been getting bigger and better every year, and for my performance in both 2018 and 2021 to be recognised makes me proud in my representation of both NSW, and Australia as a whole.

How do you like to spend your time away from swimming?

I like to spend my free time outside of swimming by reading novels, playing Xbox and occasionally fishing.

Have you been given any advice throughout your career so far that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a new swimmer starting out?

I’ve received a lot of advice through my swimming career. Some of the best advice for upcoming swimmers that I received would be to “just try your best”, as if you try your best, you can be happy at the end of the day that you left nothing in the tank. Another piece of advice would be “you don’t need to feel good to be good”, which has been very true of myself. Some of my best races were when I was feeling tired or worn down, so don’t count yourself out just because you’re not feeling 100%. Finally, “you never know what you can do” is important, as everything appears impossible until it is done. People who have swum the impossible were never the ones making excuses why they can’t do it. Do not limit your own performances by what you think is your limit, as you could go so much further by aiming for the impossible, even if you don’t quite get there.

Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?

I’m focusing on the upcoming 2023 Para Swimming World Championships next year, and the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris the following year. Ultimately, I would like to do 2028 Paralympics in Los Angeles as well, and maybe even 2032 in Brisbane, depending on if I’m still competitive when I’m 31.

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