“I swim fly and free as well but I love the 100m breaststroke. I’m ranked No.1 over that distance and if I can improve further I hope I can break the world record. I’m 0.6 seconds off so it feels close. But it’s definitely a gold medal I can target at the Paralympics.”
By noon on an average weekday, Louise Fiddes has packed in more than many of us could manage by midnight. Like most dedicated world-class swimmers, she Is an early riser – getting up at 4.30am and training until 7am. After that, however, she clicks into the life of a regular British college student, attending classes for a personal training course.
She swims for several more hours following school – after which she “literally collapses”. For a 17-year-old it is impressive – but Fiddes has got her eyes firmly fixed on the Paralympic prizes of Tokyo 2020.
“It’s exhausting,” admits Fiddes, from Welwyn, Great Britain. “My dad drives me to every training session. We don’t say much to each other at 4.30am but my family are so supportive.”
Dazzling in Dublin
Fiddes’ dedication is already paying off. After a decent first season in 2017, she dazzled in her second, winning the overall female title at the 2018 World Para Swimming World Series, followed by gold in the SB14 100m breaststroke at the European Championships in Dublin. She beat experienced racers like Aurelie Rivard, Chantalle Zijderveld and Carlotta Gilli.
“It was incredible and unexpected,” she says. “They’re such great swimmers, I’m not in their league yet. Dublin was my first really big meet and I was nervous. I didn’t feel on top form, either. But I focused on my race plan and didn’t get distracted. I was shocked by the results, though. I’m still working my way up in swimming.”
While Fiddes may have a way to go to dominate the S14 class for athletes with intellectual impairments, she is currently supreme in the 100m breaststroke.
“I swim fly and free as well but I love the 100m breaststroke,” she says. “I’m ranked No.1 over that distance and if I can improve further I hope I can break the world record. I’m 0.6 seconds off so it feels close. But it’s definitely a gold medal I can target at the Paralympics.”
It’s all a long way from some difficult schooldays for Fiddes, who credits swimming for giving her a massive confidence boost. “I was bullied at school. I struggled. People made me feel very self-conscious and at the time it was very upsetting,” she says. “But swimming helped so much.
“Everyone in swimming has been great, and nobody judges. I feel much more confident and happy. My swimming club in Hatfield is so lovely, and in Team GB I’ve got good friends like Jessica-Jane [Applegate] and Bethany [Firth].
“They’re both so sweet. We always have a laugh in the call-up rooms. They’ve also reassured me about the Paralympics, which I’m anxious about. They say, ‘It’s still a pool, it’s still a race, there’s nothing that different’. And Jess really relaxes me before races. We talk about food and our dogs mainly – anything apart from swimming.”
Worth the sacrifice
Fiddes plans to train until summer and then take a break before her final, major training block in the run-up to Tokyo. It takes dedication to resist the temptations on offer to the average teenager, but she knows that the end result should be worth it.
“It’s hard when my friends say, ‘Come out on Friday night’, and I have to say, ‘I can’t’,” says Fiddes.
“They can’t believe how much I train. But I really want to do well. I love going all over the world and seeing different cultures. I’ve been to Japan before with Team GB, and the people were so nice and respectful. So I’d love to go again.”