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Castlebar Olympian makes a splash

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Part 2 of our interview with Olympic swimmer Nicholas Quinn

Interview
Daniel Carey

IN the middle of September, Nicholas Quinn will return to the University of Edinburgh to complete his degree in psychology. By then, the Mayo swimmer will be an Olympian, having secured the qualification time for the 200 metres breaststroke at an event in Eindhoven last April.
When the adventure in Rio is all over, the young Sarnaught man plans to spend ‘a week or two’ in Castlebar and hopes to ‘get away for a bit of a holiday’. He ‘might need to come down’ from the high of the Rio Olympics before hitting the books again.
The 23-year-old recently paid a flying visit to his native town, where he sat down for individual interviews with members of the media. Here’s the second part of ours:

DC: Are you happy with how training is going?
NQ: Once I qualified [for the Olympics], I was on a high, and everything was so easy. I was flying in training. I think it’s a natural high, and I knew at the time ‘This isn’t gonna lost until I get there’ [Rio] … But I’m still swimming well, training well ... It’s just about getting me right on the day that I need to be right on.

DC: Has studying psychology influenced your own approach to swimming?
NQ: It has definitely made a difference. I break everything down to really small [pieces]. If I was to sit here and start thinking about racing out there [Rio], I’d get overwhelmed. So I break everything down. I take it not even day by day, [but] session by session. I have something that I want to work on in a session, and something that I want to work on for the week.
If I break everything down to small bits, it just becomes manageable. If I was to start thinking of what I need to do … Sometimes you can’t help it, and [you think] ‘Oh Jesus, it’s massive!’ But then I stop myself and I bring it back down to small bits – ‘Right, I know I need to do this break-out’ or ‘I need to do this dive’ or ‘I need this in my dive, and to do that, I need to do this today’. Just break it down so that if I do all those little bits every day up until then, I know that when I’m standing behind the blocks that day, I can [say]: ‘Right, I’ve done everything that I needed to do, so now it’s time to just let it all happen’.

DC: Footballers talk about ‘the next ball’ – what you’re talking abut sounds similar?
NQ: Yeah, it’s the same idea, really. You just focus on the little things that you can control. Like, in a football match, you can’t control whether you’re going to win. All you can control is the next ball that comes, you’re going to win that ball and you’re going to do something good with it. It’s the same in swimming … Even now, just thinking about racing out in Rio, it’s kind of overwhelming. But you just break it down. I know ... how many stroke counts I’m supposed to take [in] a length. I know how far I’m supposed to go off my dive. [I] just break it down to all those little things, and everything all of a sudden becomes more manageable.

DC: Are you counting your strokes as you’re in the water?
NQ: Yeah! I got into the habit since I was back in Castlebar, [aged] only 12 or 13. I count my strokes at every length. I can’t NOT do it now … it just naturally happens! So I can tell you how many I did in my race back in Eindhoven – it just stays with me, and I just remember it.
In a race, if something happens and I’m not [where I should be], I know straight away that something has happened … [and] I begin to doubt myself … But sometimes you’re feeling better on the day, and maybe you’re taking one less stroke because you’re actually just in a better place than you thought you were going to be. So you have to be flexible enough to adapt and just go with it. But I do have my own markers throughout the race, knowing where I’m at and where I need to be.

DC: Were your family a big help in your swimming when you were growing up?
NQ: When I qualified [for the Olympics], the first thing I did was I wanted to find Mam and Dad. They were in Eindhoven [for the qualifying event], and the first thing I wanted to do was find them in the stands, because there’s no way I would have done anything like that without them. The amount of support I’ve got from them … I remember when I was doing my Leaving Cert, instead of doing PE, I’d be going to the gym, and Mam would be there picking me up, and I’d be having some food in the car [going] to the gym. Then [she’d] pick me up and bring me back to school for the next class, and bringing me to training … I couldn’t have done it without them.
And there’s so many people – my coach in Edinburgh [Chris Jones], Marian [English] here [in Castlebar] – I couldn’t have done any of it without them… I think Marian was the first person I spoke to after I qualified. She was watching [the race on live-streaming] and she rang Chris. I was standing beside Chris when she rang him, so I managed to speak to her literally five minutes after I swam. It’s a team. You can’t get success without having a team, and I had the best team I could have hoped for, in Castlebar and in Edinburgh. It’s an individual sport, but you can’t do it on your own.

DC: I’m sure the Castlebar club and swimming locally will get a boost from you being in the Olympics – people will see what’s possible or achievable?
NQ: Yeah. Castlebar, we’re a small enough town with a small pool, but I had all the facilities. The [people at the] pool were always great to me. I never wanted for anything. If I needed to come in early in the morning, that was never a problem. They were doing anything they could to help me. It shows what you can achieve. Growing up in Castlebar, I was never [saying] ‘I’m going to the Olympics’. But I just had different goals that I wanted to do every year.

DC: When did the Olympics become something you could aspire to?
NQ: I think it was probably when I moved to college, or maybe the year before that. I knew it was going to work quite well, in that I was [due to] finish my degree [shortly before Rio] ... So I [thought]: ‘Well, I’m gonna swim anyway until then’, and I [thought]: ‘If I keep progressing, then there’s no reason why I can’t be there’. So going over, moving to Edinburgh from Castlebar, the aim was always ‘I’ll swim until Rio, and hopefully be able to put myself in a position to qualify’. So it was always something that was in the back of my mind.”

DC: You’ve deferred the final part of your study until after the Olympics. So have you essentially been a full-time athlete?
NQ: I have been a full-time athlete, pretty much, and thankfully, it’s paid off. It’s definitely made a difference – not so much in the pool, but all the things that are outside the pool – my rest and my recovery, and then not having to be stressing about getting in  deadlines or anything. That’s where I think the big difference has been made this year.

DC: There’s been a lot of talk about the Zika virus in Brazil. Are you concerned about it?
NQ: We’re getting emails or notifications every couple of days with the latest thing that’s come out from the World Health Organisation or the Olympic Council of Ireland … I’m not worried about it. When I think about the Olympics, it’s literally very far down on my list of things that I think about. The World Health Organisation are saying we’re going to be safe, so I’m quite content to listen to what they’re saying; I don’t know an awful lot about it. I know there are precautions we take when we’re outdoors, like trying to wear long-sleeved t-shirts, but they’re saying it shouldn’t be too bad at that time of year. It’s not really a massive worry of mine.

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