Eyad is a member of the World Refugee Team about to compete in the World Swimming Championships. For five weeks Swimming New Zealand has allowed Eyad to join the New Zealand swimmers, first on the Mare Nostrum circuit and then in their Samorín, X-Bionic Sphere staging camp in Bratislava, Slovakia. Eyad and I are deeply grateful to Swimming New Zealand for including Eyad. Their assistance represents the very best in sport. Especially for a swimmer who has had a difficult start to his swimming career.

Tomorrow Eyad and the New Zealand swimmers end their training camp preparation. They will travel by bus the 194kms to Budapest. The Championships begin there on Saturday, 18 June. So how has the training camp gone?

Eyad tells me it could not have been better. The food, the accommodation, the swimming facilities, the weather, the team management and the coaches have been first class. We decided Eyad should do two weeks of steady, aerobic swimming after completing the Mare Nostrum circuit. We could have kept going with sprint training, but after talking to Coach Arch Jelley decided that for Eyad, two weeks of recovery was a better plan. The old expression, “keep the tiger in the tank” seemed to be the best option. And so, for two weeks, Eyad swam easy sets like 40×100 or 5×400 at a steady recovery pace. The swimming equivalent, you might say, of running around the Waitakere Ranges, here in Auckland.      

But before continuing with Eyad’s story I should mention that in just over one month Arch will have his 100th birthday. His advice is as sound as ever. His contribution to questions such as: “do we keep sprinting or do we have a few weeks of aerobic swimming?” is invaluable. For forty years he has directed me past hundreds of training obstacles. Thank you Arch.

Only in the past week has Eyad gone back to speed training, culminating in a 50m butterfly trial this morning. We will only know if the decision to hold Eyad back has worked when he swims in the Championships. However so far, so good. His best time for 50m LC butterfly prior to this morning was 25.89. In the trial today he swam 25.40. Progress.

Eyad’s camp has not all been hard graft. He has an uncle who lives in Vienna. Each Sunday Eyad has been picked up and taken to Vienna to have lunch with his uncle’s family. Last Sunday Eyad was allowed to drive the 100kms. Sure enough, he ended up driving on the New Zealand side of the road. A reminder from his uncle got him back on the “right”.

Tomorrow then, Eyad and the New Zealand team head off for the culmination of this trip. Eyad will return to New Zealand a very different athlete from the one who left New Zealand six weeks ago. Thank you to the International and New Zealand Olympic Committees, FINA and Swimming New Zealand for making the opportunity possible. Well done to Eyad on taking advantage of his good fortune.

And God speed to Eyad and the other swimmers from New Zealand through next week’s World Championships.

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