SportsAid is aiming to shine a spotlight on the next generation of household names across Great Britain….your local heroes! Our blog series, entitled ‘Inside My World’, will look to offer you an insight into the lives of the country’s most talented young athletes while also offering them the platform to express themselves to a wider audience.
This time.... it’s Roan Brennan, 14, from Hornchurch in Essex. Roan is a para swimmer who is currently supported by the Royal Bank of Canada through SportsAid and competes on the Swim England Para Swim Talent programme. His dream is to win gold at the Paralympics, starting in Paris 2024, and hopes to represent ParalympicsGB at multiple Games.
Here, Roan takes you into his world as he blogs about the importance of having para swimming in his life, how he coped in lockdown without a pool to train in, striking the right balance with his education and training, and what it’s like being a Chelsea FC superfan.
“I initially got introduced to swimming by my older brother, Liam, who is four years older than me. The main attraction for it was the success of my brother, and I thought I wanted to give it a go too. I specialise in the 400m freestyle and I prefer the freestyle events, like the 50m and 100m, and 50m fly as well.
“To be honest, at the start, I didn’t love swimming. I learned to swim and the club I was with at the time, Romford Town Swimming Club, offered me a place on their squad, and I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to do it. I thought I’d see how it goes, but I ended up loving it. I started to learn to swim when I was four, and I started on the squad when I was about nine.
“A mum of another swimmer told my mum, Caroline, that she thought I potentially could be good enough to get on the pathway and got us involved with Swim England. Luckily, they thought I was good enough! It exposed me to that international side of swimming, and those are the best races by far.
“I was about 10 when I won my first medal. It was third place at a small gala. I just remember feeling really glad that I got on the podium. It gave me such joy and I thought, ‘if third place gives me this much happiness, imagine winning gold at the Paralympics’. That would just be amazing.
“I think winning bronze at Nationals in 2019 in the 100m butterfly was when I realised that I had a bit of talent though. It was my first national final and to win a bronze in it was amazing. it shows how the pathway that I’m on is leading to bigger things.
“A stand-out moment for me was at the Essex County Championships last year. It was the last gala before lockdown and I thought ‘this could be my last gala for God knows how long, so I better give it everything.’
“I did the 400m freestyle and got a silver. It was really good because I never normally do well against able-bodied people and to come second just proved that I don’t have to just do para swimming, I can do able-bodied swimming too. That really made me realise how much I could do with swimming. It made me feel like I could go anywhere.
“I was born very early. My cerebral palsy affects the left side of my body. It’s never really set me apart in many things. In terms of swimming, it has affected me as I’m not able to do some of the stuff that the able-bodied swimmers can, but para swimming is such a great thing because there’s such a community.
“I’ve made so many friends, and the main reason we’re friends is because we relate to this one thing; we relate to the feeling of being left out, and we aren’t anymore as we’ve come together. The lockdown was very difficult because unlike most sports, you need a pool to train. I did a lot of running during lockdown, not only for the physical aspect but the mental side too. It really does help just clear everything.
“Last summer, from August to October time, that was one of my happiest times to be back swimming. Swimming getting taken away again was the lowest, lowest point because I thought I was only just building up again and wasn’t sure when we’d be back. Now that we are, I’m just training as hard as I can to get to where I was.
“I had a competition the last Saturday in May at Basildon and that was my first competition back. I did the 50m front crawl, the 200m front crawl, and the 50m butterfly, and I managed to PB in all three of them. The times were good, and I was happy with that, but the best thing was to be back racing again.
“My first international event was the British International Swimming Meet in Sheffield in 2018. It was the first time I’d ever done anything like it, and I went up with my dad, David, and we both just thought it’d be a good experience, but I did it and recorded a PB. I came first in the heat and my dad was so proud. It was a great race. It was a springboard for my swimming and my career, and I got that exposure.
“I’m hoping to break some British records. That puts you on par with the best British athletes and I want to be one of them. When you talk about swimming, you have to talk about Michael Phelps. But I also really like Adam Peaty for that British sporting hero. He’s definitely been a big idol.
“Swimming is my favourite sport to do by far, but to watch, I love football and I’m a big Chelsea fan. Now they’re the best club in the world!
“I remember going to London 2012 and seeing the swimming there at the Paralympics and it was such a great environment. I thought, ‘I want to be like them’. I was too young for Rio, and just missed out on Tokyo, so Paris would be amazing.
“I’m hoping Paris will be one of many. It’s the best – it’s like the Champions League final in football! To perform there on the biggest stage would be a dream. I’ve dreamt about it as a kid, and it just continues to grow. It would mean the world to go.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes can continue receiving the backing they rely on. Find out more about how you can support the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future!