Dubai: Achieving my dream to swim at the Olympic Games didn’t happen overnight; it was a goal I set myself when I was just 12.
My coach Chris Tidey, from Hamilton Aquatics, pointed out early on that with the right training, determination and sacrifice I could one day swim at the Olympics. It’s funny when I look back now because I was the kid who refused to get in the water when my mum sent me to swimming lessons, but once I jumped in you couldn’t get me out.
After that conversation with Chris six years ago, I began to slowly give up all my other sports and activities and focus on swimming. While I’d competed in many swimming meets in Dubai, my parents and I never truly understood how much potential I had until my first overseas meet in England where I received the Top Boy award.
Although I’d taken part in many competitions in Dubai, the quality of the talent was not as strong then as it is today; nor did we have the great public facilities like the Hamdan Aquatic Centre, so most of my training was done at Gems World Academy.
For me, as the years progressed and my times improved I knew that if I wanted to fulfil my dream to compete at the highest level in the sport, I had to give up most social activities.
Going to parties and late nights were out of the question; on most days I had to be at the pool as early as 5.20am.
Juggling school work and training twice a day was a challenge; I trained for two hours every morning and then had to be at school by 7.45am.
After school consisted of having a quick bite to eat and a 15-minute sleep in the car on the way to training.
My parents also sacrificed a lot so that I could reach this point in my life; mum would chauffeur me all over Dubai every day just so that I could attend training and competitions, and without that support, I wouldn’t be competing at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
I think today young swimmers in the UAE have a better chance of achieving their goals; they just need to be prepared to work hard and make some sacrifices.
— Dubai-based Stjepanovic is a member of Serbian swimming squad for London.