Friday, November 16, 2018

Year of Young People 2018: Bethany Thomas

Each month in 2018, to celebrate the Year of Young People in conjunction with the Scottish Government and Young Scot, Scottish Swimming is profiling an outstanding athlete or volunteer from the world of aquatics. Check out our previous features: Archie GoodburnToni ShawCameron BrodieDominique ZahraLucas Thomson and Kayleigh Haggo.

Greek culture is dominated by the mythology surrounding powerful ancient gods and goddesses, and stories of heroism and innovation. Buried among those tales lies Amphitrite, Goddess and Queen of the Sea.

If she won the lottery, synchronised swimmer Bethany Thomas dreams of buying a villa in Greece, ideally by the sea. She yearns for it in part due to her father being Greek and in part due to her fascination with other interesting cultures, something the Hellenic state lends itself to almost naturally.

Sadly, Thomas hasn't won the lottery (indeed, she's only recently came of age to buy a ticket) but it is probably just about the only thing she hasn't won in the last year. Since 2017 she has won:

Gold at the Scottish Synchro Figures Championships; Duet Gold at the Interdistrict Championships;

Solo Gold, Duet Gold and Free Team Gold at the Scottish Synchro Club Championships;

Gold for Solo, Figures, Duet and Free Team at SNAGS 2017;

And, Gold for National Junior Free Team, National Free Team, National Technical Duet and National Free Solo at SNAGS 2018.

That translates to all of the titles available at her age group in 2017, and a score of medals in 2018 as part of Nairn Synchro, which won Top Club at the 2018 Scottish Synchro SNAGS. On top of all that, she was crowned Scottish Swimming's Synchronised Swimmer of the Year in September. This brings us back to Queen of the Sea, Amphitrite, and her relevant obscurity.

Thomas' life is intrinsically linked to water: from an early age she loved swimming and as a synchronised swimmer she spends six out of seven days a week in the pool. But where Amphitrite faded into darkness after becoming Queen of the Sea and is now remembered merely as a token consort of Poseidon, Thomas has aspirations to compete internationally in the pool and then pass on her skills and knowledge to the next generation.

In order to achieve international selection, talent and success is a must. Those elements aren't in doubt here. But on top of them, the will to bounce back from disappointment is paramount. Given the amount of success Thomas had had in the last year, one could argue that such determination would be hard to come by when it was needed at SNAGS this year.

Midway through the first day of competition, Thomas sat slumped on in the corner of Drumchapel Pool, failing to hold back tears. Clearly day one had not gone as planned. Did the pressure get to her? Had her leg injury resurfaced? Had she found a limit to her talents?

No.

The next day Thomas rebounded and performed admirably in the pool both individually and as part of her team. She was rewarded with a score of trips to the podium and ended the weekend on a high, with four national titles.

Thomas moved to the quaint Highland town of Nairn from London six years ago. She says life in London was, "Of course, very different to life in a Highland town." She remembers spending a great deal of time in the car, usually in slow moving traffic. There was always a lot of noise and sirens as the family lived fairly close to a hospital. 

She added: "I certainly couldn’t go anywhere on my own or even with friends – of course I was much younger but I wouldn’t even be allowed to the park on my own." Life in Nairn is very different. There is no second thoughts about walking out to the shops or nipping round to a friend's house and all the neighbours know one another and get along.

But life in London wasn't some crazy dangerous rollercoaster. Thomas remarked: "We often went into the city to watch a West End show or just to wander around the attractions. I loved the Christmas Market in Green Park. But, I also saw a lot less of my Dad as he went out to work before I got up and wasn’t home usually until I was in bed. I think my parents wanted to move to get a better quality of life for our family. We had always come to Nairn twice a year during school holidays as my Gran lives here and my Great-Grandparents had retired here in 1968."

Perhaps having that experience and being able to compare the hustle and bustle and big-city life to the calmer nature of living in the Highlands has given Thomas a proper sense of perspective despite her young age. Her aspirations to become a coach or teacher in the future and the fact she regularly volunteers at club and district events prove that she's aware of the bigger picture: there is a bigger world out there than the one that revolves around her.

"Our Club is really small, small but mighty as we like to say. We are also the only club in the north district so it is really important to have new members in," Thomas says when asked about the background to her volunteering. "I like to do the taster days as the children love being lifted out the water and watch in amazement at our demonstrations.

"Without new members any sport would eventually die out as older members invariably move on and new members are needed to carry it on. I would be really so very sad if that happened as it’s such a fantastic sport and children would miss out on such a lot."

Thomas asserts that she knew she was passionate for synchro the moment she found the sport. She too looked on in amazement at the swimmers being vaulted out of the water and performing intricate routines. Back then the medium was a poster, but the impact still the same.

Aside from her family and no doubt her friends and teammates, one of Thomas' biggest influences is her coach, Wyn McFadyen. "Wyn is the most patient person, she has to be! She is so committed to giving her swimmers the best of herself and her experience and has all the qualities I admire. I want to instil in other youngsters the same things she has given to me and all the other swimmers who have passed through the club. Being a coach allows you to do that.

"To be a coach is to give something back to the sport that has given me so much. I really can’t imagine not being involved."

North District Convener Sharon Hamilton, who put forward the nomination for Thomas at the Scottish Swimming Awards, said: "Bethany is a young woman who focuses on her goals and does not flinch at hard work. She is always willing to help any of her team mates or the younger swimmers in the club, and will always go the extra mile to support other swimmers and her coaches.

"At club level she has helped with all sections of swimmers, either by demonstrating techniques or by advice. Bethany is willing and generous in imparting her knowledge of the sport to others. The younger swimmers look up to her as an example of what they can achieve with hard work and the correct attitude."

When not involved in the sport - which is an increasingly short amount of her time - Thomas likes to help out with the family horses, Calypso and Dusty. Calypso, affectionately known as Lippy, is an Irish sports horse who on the whole is "a very sweet girl" but is known to become a rather moody and Dusty, a Fell pony, who is a much calmer soul. Both horses can reflect the contrasting nature of synchro, and of sport in that it often challenges you but always rewards you. And, even on bad days, can be beautiful.

Also beautiful on its bad days is the sea, and the beach is often a regular place of visit for Thomas regardless of the weather. Given her fondness for the water in general perhaps its no surprise this is where she prefers to find her solace.

"The sea is so magnificent and I love to watch its changing moods. I like it best when no-one else is around," she says. If Amphritite is listening, she'd maybe be as inspired hearing that as the young swimmers Thomas has imparted similar wisdom on.

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