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How swimming helped my confidence – the inspirational journey of Harvey Phillips

Participating in any aquatic discipline can have a positive impact on character development.

Para-swimmer Harvey Phillips (centre) and his dad Darren (left) have experienced just that, with the difference in Harvey described as ‘night and day’ since he took up the sport.

The youngster is in the S4 classification after having both his legs and parts of his arms amputated as a baby due to contracting meningitis.

Now, he has his sights set on the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games and has shared his journey in the hopes of inspiring others.

When asked about how swimming has helped him develop as a person, Harvey said: “It’s helped me come out my shell massively and interact with a very wide range of people from all over.

“I think, overall, swimming’s helped with everything and helped me grow an awful lot.”

His dad, Darren, added: “As Harvey said a few years back, swimming’s put him on a level playing field as such.

“He feels like he can do what everybody else can do in the water and it’s just progressed. He’s got better and better with meeting other people.

“He really has completely and utterly changed through swimming. I think its self-grown confidence as well.

“Harvey’s one of the most laid back people you’ll ever meet in your life, but his sense of humour now is just unbelievable. He’s just a character.

“When he gets with his swim club, even the para-swimmers see him there, and they’re all just absolutely mad. It has made Harvey grow in stature basically.

“We’ve had a lot of low points, as people with Harvey’s disabilities do, but with swimming he’s always had that drive to want to be better and want to do more.

“I think it’s helped him become himself. Even from just passing his driving test to drive a car, he has completely done a massive 360 degrees from how he used to be, and it is down to swimming.”

Harvey first learned to swim while on holiday with his dad and later began swimming every weekend with his dad and sister.

It was on one of those weekends where he was spotted by a Swim England talent officer and invited along to a competition.

Harvey’s first, and only swimming club, is Louth Dolphins where he is still a member to this day under the guidance of performance lead coach, Mark Anstey.

On the change in Harvey’s character from when he first met him at just eight-years-old, Mark said: “It’s night and day. He’s still quiet, but he’s not shy.

“He takes it all in does Harvey. He’s a confident lad and it’s given him faith in his own being. Not ability, it’s his own being as a person.

“Obviously, he has to look up to everybody physically, but he doesn’t look up to many people psychologically.

“He knows he’s on an even field with them now and that’s the big thing for us. Harvey’s journey as a swimmer has given him that confidence as a human being and as a person day-to-day.

“That’s the difference for me, it’s his confidence as a person and swimming’s done that for him. And he’s done it for himself with his swimming.”

Both Harvey and Darren paid tribute to Louth and the positive impact that the people and environment at the club has had.

Darren explained that ‘no one bats an eyelid’ at Harvey being a para-swimmer. They treat him as a swimmer, racing alongside able-bodied athletes, which he says has helped Harvey.

Paralympic hopes and coaching aspirations

After a successful 2023, which saw him set a new British record in the SB3 100m Breaststroke, Harvey is now hoping to make his Paralympic debut in 2024.

He will take a year out to work towards his Paralympic dream, before then heading to university to study sport coaching.

“Hopefully I’ll qualify for Paris, whether it be either as part of a relay or hopefully individual,” Harvey said.

When asked what it would mean to see his son competing at a Paralympic Games, an emotional Darren said: “Oh man, it’d mean everything. It would just mean everything.

“It’s what he wants to do and if it happens, it happens. And fingers crossed it will.”

Harvey revealed that his decision to go into coaching was partly due to the fact that there are not many para-swimmers who have gone on to coach.

“It helps you understand more when you can see someone similar to yourself who’s been there, done that, and they’re able to pass on their experience and everything they’ve learnt to you,” he said.

As Harvey plans ahead for a future inside the sport which has had such a positive impact on him as a person, he gave a final piece of advice for those who may be thinking about getting into aquatics, no matter which discipline.

He added: “It just gives you a lot of opportunities, you meet loads of new people and see loads of different places. It’s definitely a good thing to get into.”