TAREE’S YMCA Manning Aquatic Leisure Centre (MALC) will be the focal point for swimmer Paige Leonhardt as she prepares for the Paralympics to be held in Rio starting September 7.
Paige, 15, lives in Port Macquarie but is a member of the Wingham Swimming Club to enable her to train with coach Jeremy Wardrop. She has cerebral palsy as a result of a car accident when she was a young child.
Paige clinched her spot in the Australian team for Rio following a great swim in the 100 metre multi class breaststroke at the Australian championships in Adelaide, where she finished third in a time of 1.21.31. This was a personal best and also the fourth fastest time clocked in the world this year.
Paige was also fifth in the 200m medley in 2.39.11, another personal best, and seventh in the 100m butterfly in 1.11.53. (In multi class swimming the different classes compete in the same race. Placings are determined on the times closest to the world record for the event.)
“Her swim in the morning wasn’t great,’’ coach Wardrop admitted.
“So we sat down and worked out where she was going wrong.’’
At that stage Paige was listed as a reserve for the Australian team. That would have meant training with the squad and relying on another swimmer being injured to get a start. If that didn’t happen, Paige wouldn’t have gone to Rio.
However, Wardrop said Paige handled the pressure brilliantly.
“Paige saw her time immediately when she finished. She knew she was in. It was an awesome feeling.’’
The qualifying time was 1.21.36.
Paige is now enjoying a brief break from training. However, she’ll be back in the pool at the MALC after the school holidays and will have a five week block of training before heading to camp in Cairns. Paige will continue to work with Wardrop other than when she has commitments with the Australian team.
“She’s my first Olympian,’’ he said, proudly.
Paige has been with Wardrop for 14 months, linking with him because of his experience in the paralympian program. She trains six days a week, travelling from Port for sessions in the morning and afternoon – Wardrop said she isn’t worried about hard work.
It hasn’t been determined how many events she’ll contest in Rio and Wardrop expects it will be more than just the 100 breaststroke, her favourite. He is confident she’ll also force her way into the relay team. Wardop expects her to make a breaststroke final and says a medal is a real possibility.
This will be Paige’s debut in international competition. But Wardrop insists it won’t be her last, pointing out she was one of five swimmers who attended an elite swimmers camp earlier this year.
“Of the five, four made it to Rio,’’ he said.
“They’re all 15 or 16 so they’ll be 19 or 20 at the next Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020. They’ll be brilliant by then.’’
The only downside is that Wardrop won’t be making the trip to Rio,
“I’ll stay in contact and I’ll be watching on TV,’’ he smiled.
“I can’t wait.’’