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James McKechnie: ‘To swim at the Olympics would be unbelievable’

James McKechnie went from training in a pool in the north of Adelaide to competing for a Commonwealth Games medal against some of the world’s fastest swimmers. He went One on One with Tom Staggard to talk about his journey so far and his Olympic aspirations.

PHOTO: STARplex

Tom Staggard: How did you get into swimming and where did you start?

James McKechnie: I started in Learn to Swim programs and the first one I was at was based on Parafield Gardens.

I was like anyone else really who went through all the levels and then eventually made my way up to squads and started competing.

TS: Your start doesn’t sound too dissimilar to any other Australian kid really. Did you play any other sports as you were growing up?

JM: Yeah that’s pretty much it.

When I was younger I used to play basketball as well but it got to the stage where swimming was becoming more and more demanding.

I had to commit a fair amount of time to it so I made the call to only swim and give up basketball.

My parents and I had a chat when I was about 12 and we came to the conclusion that I had to pick one and swimming was the way I went.

You’re right though because I did just start like any other kid. I enjoyed being in the water and then enjoyed the challenge of competing. It really did just go from there.

TS: The story of how many hours are involved to really compete at the top level of swimming has been well told. How did you initially cope with the early morning starts?

JM: A lot of swimmers do start quite young which was much the same as me.

Initially, I guess it was a bit of a shock. In my first few squad sessions down at Parafield Gardens, I did have to wake up at about 4am to be ready to be in the water at 5am.

It started out as one day a week and they just build it up until it becomes habit and you just gradually increase the amount of mornings you have to wake up.

TS: You mentioned you got your start at Parafield Gardens, when did you make the shift up to STARplex?

JM: It was just before I turned 13 and I was already going to school at Trinity College so it just made sense to make the move up there.

I’d been with STARplex for about 10 years and only recently moved into the South Australia Sports Institute (SASI) program.

TS: You obviously spent a lot of time at STARplex. What were some of the things that you learnt from the coaches and people at that club?

JM: Yeah I learnt a lot.

I was with my old coach, Stephen Garner, for about eight years and I learnt some really valuable life lessons about being an athlete and all the stuff that is required.

I had a lot of life lessons about how to be a good man and a good human.

PHOTO: STARplex

TS: How are you swimming at this point in time and how are you feeling in the water?

JM: Yeah I’m feeling really good.

I’ve been training really fast which is good. I’d been at STARplex for 10 years and now coming into the SASI program it was my first new program in a decade.

So there was some big changes there and it did take me time to adjust but I’m swimming faster than I ever have in training and I’m really enjoying it.

TS: The 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast was a big time for you. Was that your first involvement with a senior Australian team?

JM: Yeah it basically was. I’d been on a lot of junior and development camps before which were my first time going away and competing but the Comm Games was my first senior team.

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Tom grew up in Adelaide’s northern suburbs and is our resident North American sports expert. Tom has experience as a working journalist and has a keen interest in basketball, ice hockey and American football, as well as cricket, soccer and football. He spent his junior cricket career at East Torrens District and has played for a number of football clubs across Adelaide’s north.