I have many great memories of my time with Kilmarnock Swimming club in the seventies. Although I was only there for a relatively short time, the club certainly left a very positive mark on me. I still compete today as a “masters” swimmer.
I was brought up in Ayr which is approximately 15 miles from Kilmarnock. Ayr did not have a swimming pool until 1972 and an established swimming club a year or so later. I subsequently joined Ayr swimming club, and progressed to swimming 2 to 3 times a week. We had some galas against nearby clubs, and I soon noticed that Kilmarnock ASC were “better” than Ayr. I swam with Elspeth Carnan at Ayr who was a very good swimmer and keen to get even better. Ayr had limited pool training time so eventually Elspeth’s mother suggested that a group of us should join Kilmarnock. Around 1976, Elspeth Carnan, George Payling and I moved from Ayr ASC and joined KASC. I was also a very keen Ayr United Football Club supporter at the time, so being associated with anything relating to Kilmarnock (FC) was initially frowned upon at school. Steve Dunlop who was above me at school also travelled from Ayr to swim with Kilmarnock. Steve had set a west district junior record for 50m freestyle, and set a great example at training.
The first coach I had was Harry Stewart. Harry’s wife Grace would also take us, and eventually Harry had to give up due to ill health. They were both fantastic in the way they encouraged the kids.
Around 1977 their son John took over as coach. John also had a good style of encouraging the swimmers, and I learned that if you put in the work, you would eventually get better. Right from the start I was made to feel very welcome at KASC and I really enjoyed the approach to training that was available from an established club.
There was always some time for enjoyment before/after training however. Brian Colvin was rarely quiet, and there was always something to joke about with him. I remember a relay race once when our team was in the lead. Instead of doing a proper tumble turn, Brian just touched the end so he could shout to the rest of the team “no sweat”. We still won. Murray Wallace and Ian Lewis also added to the less serious side of the training. Once on the way to a gala at Dundee, Brian Colvin got our relay team “banned” before we got to the pool by drawing on several people’s hands/arms. He was not allowed to swim with us, so the relay team was abandoned. It was sad to learn some years later that Brian became very ill. In addition to the people already mentioned, I remember most of the people in the squad I swam with, including Lynn Daly, Fiona Campbell, Steph Kenny, Helen Wemyss, Eddie Morton and Owen Mcginny.
I particularly enjoyed the Sunday afternoon training sessions at Loudon Academy, but I was never a great fan of Monday morning sets at Titchfield street. The heating for the water was often turned off at the weekend. I was inspired one day when the footballer Gordon Smith came along to a gala and presented some awards. I see that Lynn Daly has posted a photograph from that day on the website. I remember him telling me to work hard at whatever sport or activity I chose. He had obtained a fair bit of success, so I guessed he was worth listening to.
When travelling from Ayr, I had to either get lifts from the other swimmers in the area, or catch a bus, as my family did not have a car. On quite a few occasions, I stayed over at the Stewarts’ house in Kilmarnock to attend training the next day. I may not quite have appreciated it at the time, but with hindsight I am very grateful for the hospitality. I played rugby for Ayr Academy and had a few games against John’s brother Andrew who seemed to participate in quite a few sports including swimming.
John Stewart managed to improve my breastroke to a reasonable standard, and I was lucky enough to get a west district gold in May 78 at 100m. About 3 months later I travelled with a former coach Gordon Coleman down to the GB National Championships at Coventry. I did not do particularly well there, but I had a good experience of what a big competition was like. I remember being there with one of Gordon’s young swimmers called Tom Barrett from Wishaw. At the time he was a GB age group record holder, who trained very hard, but also knew how to have fun.
By the following year, I was finding the travelling from Ayr more difficult, and between schoolwork and other distractions, decided to quit swimming. I have a lot to be grateful to KASC for, and I doubt if I would be a masters swimmer today if I had not been a member there. I met up with Steph Kenny a few years ago at several masters meets, so hopefully some other ex KASC swimmers are still managing to keep active.