BEN PROUD is going back to his roots to help inspire a generation of swimmers in the ASEAN countries. The British swimmer grew up in Kuala Lumpur and has now teamed up with AirAsia to encourage and inspire the next generation of swimmers in the region.
Ben has represented Great Britain in competitive swimming competitions around the worlds and at Rio 2016 came fourth in the freestyle final at his first Olympics. He holds two British national records, as well as being the Commonwealth champion in the 50m butterfly and 50m freestyle events.
In this exclusive interview Ben talks about how growing up in Kuala Lumpur shaped the person and swimmer he has become today and recalls some of his highlights in the sport to date as well as challenges he’s faced. Read on to find out more about this inspirational young man’s journey and the drive and determination he possesses.
When did you first start swimming and who were your biggest mentors and supporters at the beginning?
Swimming has been a part of me from the early years of my life. I spent my entire childhood living in Malaysia and over there life revolves around water so naturally I had to be a competent swimmer. I was first asked to join the school team when I was seven and that was when the first training sessions and competitions started.
My parents were definitely my biggest supporters, spending their weekends taking me to competitions which for them was probably a chore but for me was where my passion for swimming sparked from – there was nothing more exciting than coming home with a medal or two!
When did you realise you had a real talent for the sport and what were some of the early successes you had?
It wasn’t until I was 16 that I realised I could really achieve something from swimming. I spent my early teens as a fairly average swimmer, someone who would compete and train with his school but was always far from being the best. There were a lot of occasions when I wanted to quit because it seemed more of a waste of time and a deadend than anything, but luckily my friends kept nudging me to see it through for a few more years.
When I was 15 I started training with a new coach at school who almost immediately saw potential in me. Within a few sessions he predicted I could be a national champion in Malaysia if I continued to follow his coaching. He got me to double my training load and started putting some self-belief in me, almost immediately I started improving and almost religiously took a chunk off of my times every time I raced.
In under a year I went from a standard school swimmer to the Malaysian champion by winning the Malaysian Open 2011 when I was 16; it was after this competition I decided to commit myself fully and see how far I could take my swimming career.
Where in the world has the sport taken you and what have been some of the highlights?
In the past four years swimming has brought me to countless new countries, some of which I never thought I would have the chance to visit. There are times during the training season when we would spend up to two months on the road travelling to different and often beautiful places for various competitions and training camps.
Most of the time spent travelling as an athlete, you tend to be very sheltered from experiencing each new place for everything it has to offer, we would always be there for a reason and therefore don’t have too much time to get out, but even having an afternoon to visit a new place’s attractions is enough to consider myself very lucky.
Tell us about your experience of Rio last year and how hard will you work to ensure you have a place at Tokyo 2020?
Competing in Rio was an unbelievable experience and thinking back to it now it seems like a completely different world. So much time and energy goes into preparing for an event that lasts no longer than 22 seconds so it was quite a big shock when it was suddenly over. However, there isn’t a part of me that would have done it any differently, the memories and experiences of being in the Olympics is something I will never forget! The thrill of racing in front of 12,000 people during an Olympic final is indescribable and leaves you wanting more, so I will give my all to be there again in four years time. Until then I will keep striving to improve myself each year.
What are you currently training for and what exciting plans and projects do you have for the year ahead?
Currently I’m building myself back into my full training regime after taking some time off from the Olympics. I’m looking to get myself into peak form by April to qualify for the World Championships this July. If all goes well I will be looking to race for my spot on top of the podium in Budapest this summer.