Top swimmer Mark Foster told students to aim high and always have a goal during his inspirational presentation at this year’s Prize Giving evening. He spoke to the audience about his 23-year career as an international swimmer which was followed by a stint on Strictly Come Dancing in 2008. He showed clips of both achievements and spoke about how you have to put maximum effort in to achieve results.
He said: ‘My story is about reaching for the stars. By reaching for the stars you kind of land on the moon.’ He first got into swimming aged five and he was instantly competitive. After tenlessons he was invited to join the swimming club and he rose through the ranks until, at the age of 10, he was swimming in the top team with those who were eight or ten years his senior.
He said: ‘There were two big things in my career. One was my mum. I used to have to get in the water five days a week from six to to eight o' clock in the morning. My mum used to get me up at 5.15. She would drive to the pool and I would swim for two hours covering seven or eight kilometres every morning. She used to drive me to school, pick me up afterwards and take me to the pool. It was hard but I if I wanted to achieve my dream I needed to do these things.
'The other turning point was when the Olympic champion Duncan Goodhew came to my swimming club and brought along his gold medal. I was ten years old and thought ‘Wow, I want one of those!’ You have these dreams and you think you can achieve anything and you can if you put your mind to it. The biggest turning point was when he stood at the poolside and asked how many strokes would it take to get from this end to the other end. We all put our hand up and guessed 15 or 20 strokes. It was a 33 and third metre pool, it was a big pool. He did it in three strokes. I remember saying "That is amazing. I want to go to the Olympics and be like you!" I wanted to become world record holder and world champion at freestyle and butterfly.'
Mark showed the audience the most significant of his two medals; the first from 1986 when he began his international swimming career at the Commonwealth Games and the final one from 2008 in Manchester. He said: 'I represented Britain for 23 years at senior level – between these two there are 47 international medals. I won six World, 11 European medals, two Commonwealth Games and broke the world record eight times but I never achieved my ultimate dream. I wanted to go to the Olympics and win an Olympic Gold. I went to five Olympic Games and I never achieved it. That is why I say reach for the stars, I landed on the moon. I achieved lots of other things. I wasn’t meant to be an Olympic champion but that never, ever stopped me trying.'
He showed a clip of his 2004 World Record time of 21.13 seconds and said: ‘From when the gun goes, to when you get to the other end you don’t breathe so I spent 23 years of my life trying to master 21 seconds without breathing and I did 32 strokes, so admittedly I was holding my breath and swimming very, very fast. I spent 600 hours a year in the water, 300 hours a year in the gym and 150 hours a year on the running track doing cross training. I did over 1,000 hours a year for 21 seconds.
‘My big thing is think about what you want the outcome to be. Don’t make a knee jerk reaction. You have a need, an experience, think of what you want the outcome to be and then respond accordingly. I swam for 23 years then I did Strictly Come Dancing, now I am known as a swimmer that dances really badly! I enjoyed the experience and I threw myself into it. Try and be the best that you can be. If you look in the mirror at yourself and can say "I did everything possible" then you can’t ask anything more of yourself. Don’t be one of these people that looks in the mirror and says "I didn’t fail because I never tried." Always try, always have a go.
'I loved Strictly and I tried to be the best that I could be. I knew I wasn’t the best dancer but I thought if I enjoyed myself then I would get the best out of myself. A little bit of confidence goes a long way. My message to you is throw yourself into something, dream big. Aim high. It is a privilege to be here this evening because I love rewarding excellence.’