Oh I’m going to have fun writing this trip down memory lane. I’ve just read my brother’s (John Stewart) story and just about fell over laughing and crying with Lynn Daly’s (or skoosh as we called her) stories. What awesome memories. So now it’s my turn…
My earliest memory of KASC and the old baths was actually learning to swim. I thought the pool was so wide! John’s story has just reminded me it was 14yds! I remember my first ‘width’ somewhere around the 3ft mark without the touching the bottom. My mother Grace was in the water with me. She had got me ready for it by putting a belt (yes a belt!) round my neck and towing me across! Was it just me or did it seem like there were hundreds of kids crammed into that pool doing everything from learn to swim at the shallow end to serious training at the deep end! From about 5yrs old through till about 8yrs old I remember going to the 5.45pm training session a few nights each week and got to go to the first hour of the evening session that ran from 8pm till 10pm. I think I started morning training a few mornings per week when I was about 10yrs. My memory of morning training was walking from Bellfield to the baths leaving home about 6.25am for a 7am start. Who would let their kid do that now! It was freezing mostly in the pool (especially the shower area) and not enjoyable experience. I didn’t have the best attendance record! Margot King and Gordon Coleman were my coaches in those early days. Monday morning training was the worst as the heating had been off at the baths over most of the weekend! I do remember one Monday morning when that wasn’t the case though as one of the workers had forgotten to turn off the heating! The entire baths was like a sauna that morning – luxury!
Training in a 33 1/3 yd pool was a bit different – especially when most of the time it wasn’t ‘flooded’. In reality it was probably only about 20yd by the time you were a bit generous stopping short of the green line, stood up, did a couple of steps followed by a dive, followed by another push off the bottom to another dive and started swimming! Then it was frustrating when it came to push off the deep end and your feet went through the gaps between the bars and you missed your turn! I remember heaps of times having diving competitions off the ‘small step’ at the shallow end (into 9inches of water!). Brian Colvin spent most of his time belly flapping as he was notorious for going too deep on normal dives. The odd brave soul dived off the ‘big step’! When it was ‘concession’ (well remembered Lynn Daly!) time and the pool was flooded, the pool seemed like a ‘mile’ long! One particular memory of the old baths was actually nearly drowning when I was around 13yr old! It was the annual Kilmarnock Academy School gala. Murray Wallace (another KASC swimmer) and I were in ‘Loudoun House’ at the school and between us we cleaned up the points in helping Loudoun win easily that year. At the end of the gala though there was the novelty race. Murray and I got dressed up in McVities penguin costumes, which were full cotton and weighed a ton when dry! My father Harry had worked for McVities for years and got the costumes for us as they were ex-promotional ones. Murray and I wore flippers and the idea was that one sat inside a big rubber car tyre inner while the other pushed or pulled you to half way then you swapped over to the end. When Murray and I jumped in the weight of the sodden costumes dragged us under and we barely made it to the end. Everyone thought it was hilarious and thought we were playing a joke – we were really drowning! We came last by the way!
I was mostly a breaststroker but also dabbled in a bit of freestyle and the odd medley. Backstroke always let me down. I didn’t win that many cups during my time at KASC – but the one I remember fondly was the Victory Cup for boys under 12 years freestyle over 33.3 yards.
I was so proud to have won that cup because my father Harry and brother John had both won that cup at some time. As far as I can recall it is still the only cup in the club with 3 family members’ names on the same cup.
I have great memories of training times around the summer school holidays. Usually there would be a bunch of us just basically staying around the pool or going over to the Howard Park between trainings. I also remember (as so vividly recalled by Lynn Daly in her story), Sunday afternoon trainings up at Loudoun Academy in that tiny pool. I did wear goggles though Lynn and yes the chlorine was still bad! I also remember the trip to Kulmbach in Germany where we had a great time. I think I was around 17yrs old at the time. The bus trip was hilarious to and from London and the swim meet was a great experience. I remember it being really hot and was thankful that I was swimming breaststroke in an open air pool on a sunny day. The backstrokers had a nightmare! It was a bit of a different swim meet as you raced your heat with others of similar entry times – regardless of age! I spent a lot of time with ‘Herman the German’, Thomas Heinl, the Bittners, and Gudrun (who was the love of my life as a 17yr old!). The beer festivals were great fun – even though I didn’t drink. My dad was hilarious – even without a drink in him. He really was my hero My brother John and I were so lucky to have such dedicated parents who took part in everything we did. Grace and Harry’s lives were KASC, whether it was coaching, secretary, cooking, organising town twinning, parties or whatever.
My last involvement with KASC as a swimmer was in my late ‘teens where I had come back to help the club out with a few ‘Western District’ championships to take up a relay spot. Nancy Findlay was Head Coach at this time. Our medley team was actually quite strong with Callum Dunlop, Steven and Douglas Kenny, and myself. We got a few podium finishes in the Western District champ’s and made it to the Scottish Age Group finals at the ‘Commy Pool’ in Edinburgh with both our freestyle and medley relay teams of the same four swimmers.
By the age of 12 or 13 though I started to struggle with time for swim training. By then rugby was my life. Throughout my school years I managed to do both but rugby always took precedence and was where I really wanted to go. During my school years at Kilmarnock Academy I pretty much doubled up playing school rugby and club rugby for Kilmarnock Rugby Football Club. I really followed a similar path as my brother John. I ended up representing Glasgow School and Glasgow (which was the club version) at U15, U18, and then after school at U21 level. I also captained the first ever Scotland U18 side in 1982; a huge honour. I also represented Scotland at U21 level and at University and College level. At the age of 21 I had a serious back injury and it kept me out the game for 3 yrs. I got going again around the age of 25 but by then the hope of full Scottish honours had passed me by as my back injury (and several other related ones) never really let me get going fully again. My brother John and I were so lucky to again have mum and dad follow us into the rugby world. Mum spent most of the time in the kitchen and her post match meals became legendary all over Scottish rugby! Dad followed John and I around the rugby circuits as a spectator and also got involved, as was his style, at the administration level. He never did fully understand the rules of the game, but that didn’t matter!
Since leaving school I pretty much have been either a student or member of staff in the university system. I graduated from the Scottish School of Physical Education in 1986 (every summer during my degree though I was a life guard back at the Kilmarnock Baths) and after a brief stint in London I did a Masters in Sport at the University of Stirling. I then got the travel bug and took off to see the world. I ended up in New Zealand in 1989 and have pretty much stayed here ever since. I spent the first 8yrs here at the University of Otago in Dunedin where I decided to go back to school and ended up doing another couple of degrees, this time in physiology and then a PhD in Sports Science at the medical school – my topic?… Training and Performance of International Swimmers! I still played a bit of rugby for my first few years but my old injuries kept holding me back, which in hindsight I was quite glad of —- these guys down here are huge! I had a few years back in Scotland in the late 90s/early 2000s where I took up roles as the Director of the Scottish Institute of Sports Medicine and Sports Science and then moved on to the University of Edinburgh. I also Chaired the Sports Medicine and Sports Science Committee for the Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain for a few years – swimming was never far from my work. However, I came back to New Zealand in 2002 and have lived in Auckland ever since. I am now married to Rachael (who I met while studying at Otago) and have 2 awesome kids both born in Auckland; Harriet (named after my father) and Archie. Both love the water and I’ll be continuing the swimming tradition with them for sure. As I write this note, I am actually only 5 weeks away from bringing my whole family back to Kilmarnock for a few weeks holiday. My family in Scotland has never met Archie so we are all very excited about the trip. No doubt I’ll be pointing out old haunts to my kids and we will of course spend most days at the Galleon. If only the old baths were still there…they’d never believe me!
My great honour and privilege of being associated with KASC though is through my family. My parents and brother have played a huge part in shaping its future (they all coached me at some point – I bet that was interesting for them!) and swimming to this day remains a major part of my life. Three great memories I can treasure: First, my mother Grace has probably taught most of Kilmarnock how to swim; second, my father Harry has a memorial trophy named after him; and finally, thanks to my brother John I got the chance to relive memories in writing this little trip down memory lane. Thanks John and to all I have known through my family connections with KASC and swimming worldwide.