She’s one of the greatest British swimmers ever – a multiple Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European medallist – but those lightning-fast swims are now just a fantastic memory for Becky Adlington.
These days, she likes nothing better than to swim at “plod” speed up and down at her local pool.
“I go swimming to switch off. I don’t go fast, I literally plod up and down,” says the mum-of-two. “I only swim for 30-40 minutes, and I don’t use it as my exercise. I just go to switch off and think – it’s almost like my meditation, my yoga. I use it more for my mental health than I do physical.”
She laughs when asked if she ever has the urge to go fast. “None at all, it’s so bizarre,” Adlington, 33, admits. “All my swimming friends – who’ve all retired, like me – say the same. None of us want to go hell for leather, it’s just a nice switch-off.
“Our bodies are so conditioned to swimming, I don’t even think about it. When you get in your car, you don’t think about how to drive, you just do it, and that’s exactly how I feel about swimming – I just get in – and that’s what I love.”
Adlington’s life still revolves around the sport however, as she runs the successful Becky Adlington’s SwimStars programme, which teaches children to swim with an emphasis on fun – ‘The Becky Way’. There’s also BabyStars, for babies and youngsters aged up to three years.
Adlington says her mission is for every child to be able to swim 25 metres by the time they leave primary school, and she’s certainly on the road to achieving that – she says SwimStars alone teaches 14,000 children every week at multiple venues across the country, including in Hull, York, Rotherham and Wakefield.
“I much prefer this grassroots level,” she shares. “A lot of people who retire from swimming go into the more elite side or coaching, but I so wanted to do the grassroots side, and I absolutely love it. It’s so rewarding with the children, seeing them having fun and gaining confidence,” she adds.
Adlington’s own children – Summer, seven, and Albie, 16 months – have weekly lessons too. “Summer does enjoy swimming, but don’t get me wrong, she’s not the best I’ve ever seen, bless her! But she doesn’t need to be and I don’t care – as long as she’s safe in water.
“She loves the water. When we go on holiday, she’s always in the pool and she’s a little fish in that way, definitely a water baby. But she’s not very competitive, she’s more creative, which is absolutely fine – I’m just happy she enjoys it. Albie absolutely loves his lessons too – he just splashes for half an hour, going crazy.”
Adlington stresses that you can’t be too young to start swimming – Summer was three weeks old when she first took her, and Albie was five weeks old (he would’ve gone earlier but it was during lockdown and pools were closed). “The earlier the better,” says Adlington. “For starters, they’ve been in water for nine months in you, so they’re used to it. It’s about confidence too – they start developing fear from about three to five years, and they become fearful of the water. But if they’ve been in the water before then, they don’t have as much fear and it’s easier to get them in.
“One of the biggest barriers is confidence, it’s not actually children’s ability to swim – everyone has that ability, whether they’re three or 93 – but so many people are so scared to get in the water that it takes them weeks and weeks of coming [to the pool] just to get them to put their little toe in the water. It’s breaking down that fear, the earlier the better.”