Sport

Pandemic proving no threat for swim star Col Pearse

By Andrew Johnston

CITIUS, altius, fortius.

That most elusive of demands for all Olympians – faster, higher, stronger.

But country kid Col Pearse is rewriting the manual.

Vestibulum, accommodant, superare.

His personal mantra after the heartbreaking setback of a postponed Paralympics – improvise, adapt, overcome.

And few swimmers in Australia’s elite Olympic and Paralympic squads would be adapting and overcoming like Pearse.

He has gone home to the family dairy farm, created his own bush version of the elite athlete at work, and picked up his training where he left off before coronavirus torpedoed the Tokyo Olympics.

The 100m butterfly bronze medallist (in an Australian para record 58.60) from the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships (who has more Australian age records in every swimming discipline than he can remember) was, like everyone in all the Australian Olympic teams, gutted when the Olympics and Paralympics were postponed for at least a year.

But at 16 (until July) it has given this rising star of the para pool the chance to grow more, practice more, perfect every aspect of his sport and be ready to conquer the world next year.

The Victorian school holidays began early, denying him access to the pool at St Michael’s Grammar School at St Kilda, and with pools across the state closed, Pearse finds himself back home in Bamawm, as far from the elite training preparing him for Tokyo 2020 as you could get.

The reigning Echuca-Moama Junior Sportstar of the Year – with some help from family and friends – has built a top range gym in the family carport, and his own Olympic pool in the property's dam.

The gym looks straight out of a 1950’s version of Rocky; the pool is made of wood pallets (starting block and the wall to practice touch finishes); the lanes are rope held up by empty plastic bottles and the water is classic dirt brown.

The only pool available to him as Victoria’s coronavirus shutdown grinds more quickly towards lockdown.

But Pearse still flashes that trademark cheeky grin, under his shock of red hair, as he goes about hours and hours, up and down the dam, kept alive by his wetsuit and underwrites that work with another four-to-five hours in his one person gym.

“The wetsuit really makes the difference,” Pearse explained.

“Once you start swimming you get the occasional burst of cold water in the suit but you don’t notice it, you are more focused on your stroke action and the other things you need to get right.

“So yes, it’s a pretty big change to get used to, but I’m ready for it. It still gives me the opportunity to train.

“I'm on school holidays now and I don't know when I will be back in classes, so it’s a good way to keep myself busy.”

Today Pearse stands 185cm (his older brother maxed out at 203cm after a growth spurt that started when he was 16) and the taller he gets the shorter the pool becomes.

All conjecture, of course, unless his personal training facility delivers the goods in the only place it counts – in the water.

Pearse has long spoken of his dream to race at the Paralympics, and his performance last year at the World Paras showed he was well on track for a spot on the Australian team.

The gap between Pearse’s bronze and the gold in 2019 was more than two seconds – a junior against an adult.

But the determined teen says the 12-month delay will work in his favour because it gives him more time to bridge the gap – a target he is 100 per cent confident he can hit.

The right attitude from another individual to become part of the coronavirus collateral damage, even though he was happy to admit the virus outbreak was a major blow.

“Honestly, it was gut-wrenching,” he said.

“This has always been my dream, so to have it taken away from me when I was so close hurt.

“That feeling didn’t last long though. It’s not cancelled, it’s postponed. It’s not like I was retiring in 2020 and now needed to go.

“As I said, if anything this has presented me with an opportunity to spend another year developing as a swimmer, improving my times and being in a better spot when the games come.’’

Pearse said no one is directly advantaged or disadvantaged by the situation, with all athletes put in the same boat.

“Our whole club is on a break,” he said.

“We've had a meeting for Australian swimming and the advice was to take a break. If we have any issues to let them know, but just relax and enjoy it.”

Far beyond his disappointment, Pearse is more than aware of the big picture at play.

“This is about protecting people's health,” he said.

“Our time will come to compete, but for now we have to work together to make sure everyone gets through this time.”