A small swimming club is starting to make big waves in the sport - and is looking to build on recent success to further improve in an Olympic year.
Rykneld Swimming Club, based at Sharley Park Leisure Centre in Clay Cross, claimed three gold medals through Kelsie Geary at the Midlands Championshjps for youth and senior swimmers at Ponds Forge, Sheffield.
More club swimmers than before reached the regional level with the team qualifying for over 50 individual races.
It followed that up most recently with three members - Tom Trueman, Luca Tramontano and Kian Mills - achieving success at the regional competition for younger swimmers at Corby at the end of May.
And club member and Great Britain international Imogen Clark, of Morton, who trains with the county squad, Derventio eXcel, remains the 50m British record holder after breaking the long-standing women’s short course mark late last year.
Head coach Matt Smithurst, (23), who joined the club in October 2014 and has swum to national level, is confident Rykneld will continue to improve.
“The team is exceeding all expectations. I don’t think anyone was expecting our little team from Clay Cross to be mixing it up and beating the big clubs (at the Midlands Championships in Sheffield),” he said.
“The club is naturally progressing and punching above its weight. I am excited for its future. Since I joined it has made great progress.
“It is currently in a great place and is thriving. The plan is just to keep building on each success.
“The club has had its up and downs over the years with 2013/14 being a low point. However, in the last 18 months the club has been growing and progressing really well - and the most exciting times are ahead of us.”
With the Rio Olympic Games just around the corner, Matt said he expected an increase in participation and potential new members once television and media coverage of the swimming competitions in Brazil kicked in.
And he thought that some of the sport’s star names could be heroes for his members to look up to.
“Most athletes who qualify for the Olympics are worth looking up to as they have become the best in their country through hard work, commitment and sacrifice,” Matt said.
“In swimming, for Britain the big name at the moment is Adam Peaty, a local lad from the City of Derby Swimming Club and currently the world record holder in the 100m breaststroke.
“All eyes will be on him for that race this summer.
“Also Michael Phelps of the USA, the most-decorated Olympian of all time, will be swimming in his last Olympics. Can he add to his haul? It will be exciting to find out because he is an inspiration.”
When the club was launched in 1972 its objectives were to promote the teaching of swimming, synchronised swimming, open water swimming and diving to a competitive standard.
Those aims remain today and the club continues to thrive in the same disciplines with 13 swimming squads as well as separate synchronised swimming and open water sections.
There are two main sections to the club. A learn-to-swim programme takes members, usually aged from four upwards, from being absolute beginners and helps them progress through seven comprehensive stages that follow the ASA National Teaching Plan.
Once members are aged around seven or eight they progress to the big pool and continue through four squads. The top end of the squads includes swimmers aged 13 to 18, while the masters caters for more mature swimmers.
Members attend training from twice a week (two 30-minute lessons in the small pool) up to the club’s highest squad, the Red squad, whose swimmers take part in seven or eight sessions a week for around 13 hours.
They are all led by two teachers - Caomi Green and Jess Hopkinson - and eight coaches - Fran Hough, Imogen Scott, Dave Booth, Barry Moss, Chris Moorcroft, Paul Watkins and Peter Rainbow - and Matt said the club was always looking to add to its team.
It also tries to develop future coaches, and keep members involved in the sport, by encouraging the development of older swimmers on nationally-recognised courses that lead to teaching and coaching qualifications.
The coaching team includes students and teachers who have made teaching swimming a career. Most are volunteers and Matt said: “We do rely on them giving up their valuable time. Some have been with the club for up to 32 years.”
Matt, who has been swimming since he was five, fell in love with coaching while on a summer swim camp in Florida, USA.
He also works with the Derbyshire training squad, Derventio eXce (DX)l, and one-to-one with Imogen Clark and previously another star Derbyshire swimmer, Abbie Wood (individual medley gold medal winner at the European Games in Baku last year), through a programme funded by Derbyshire Institute Of Sport. Joshua Pemberton also does the bulk of his training with the DX and his family, like many others, have long been associated with Rykneld.
The club enters swimmers into a variety of competitions. Teams take part in novice galas and the National Arena Swimming League for the club, for example, while swimmers also represent themselves in open meets up and down the country all the way through to county/regional and national level.
The thriving membership and growing team spirit at Rykneld was highlighted last year when it raised £15,000 to send a team of 22 to a two-week training camp in Florida.
Matt said it was a fantastic achievement for a club that mainly relied on income from its members’ subscription fees as well as grants and sponsorship for equipment and kit.
The youngsters who went on the trip were: Alisha Hurrell, Abbie Dunnachie, Beth Hadley, Hannah Utting, Catherine Hoyland, Olivia Beckett, Jordon Chawner-Wright, Maisie Helps, Laura Mitchell, Caomi Green, Kelsie Geary, Daniel Hoyland, Nathan Chawner-Wright, Charlie Beckett, Ryan Huddart, Callum Judge, Joshua Pemberton, Andrew Hopkinson and Adam Lievesley led by Matt and two other coaches, Shelley Helps and Paul Hopkinson.
Matt said: “The training was invaluable. The world-class facilities are things we only dream about back here in England. The swimmers also learnt valuable lifeskills like cooking, sticking to a schedule, being organised and taking responsibility for themselves.
“They didn’t just grow as athletes, they turned into young adults. The performances when they returned home at the Derbyshire championships were incredible and well worth the effort and money put into the trip.”
Rykneld also hosts competitions involving swimmers from other clubs to boost income.
But the underlying ethos of the club’s rise over recent years has been an emphasis on fun and enjoyment of the sport.
Matt said: “Keeping active is an important part of anyone’s life, especially for youngsters who are developing.
“I encourage every parent to allow their child to learn to swim. It is a life skill and considering that our planet is made up of 70% water it’s a necessity.
“Learning to swim also allows children to be more involved in activities later in life and not be restricted.
“The places swimming can take you are endless - travel around the country and world while competing perhaps and the chance to make a career out of it through coaching and teaching, all with the added benefit of having another circle of friends outside of school.
“But overall we try to make swimming at Rykneld fun. It has to be fun because then when it is exciting everyone does more and puts more effort it.
“It’s our job as coaches and teachers to engage the swimmers and keep things interesting.”
Chairman Paul Hopkinson added: “Over the last 18 months, Rykneld Swimming Club has gone from strength to strength with both a new committee and head coach taking the reins.
“With all the recent superb results across all age groups, male and female, at county, regional and national level, I am incredibly excited as to what the future holds.
“I am certain that as a ‘team’ and, as has been quoted and observed on many occasions as a ‘family’, we will see nothing but success for those that want to work hard and reap the benefits.”
The club welcomes new members. Anyone interested in joining Rykneld Swimming Club should contact head coach Matt Smithurst via email at firstname.lastname@example.org