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Olympic hopeful Amber Keegan: City of Sheffield Swim Squad was my lifeline

Amber Keegan is looking forward to an ‘exciting’ year as she bids to qualify for the open water competition at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Here, in the third of three articles, Amber reflects on the ‘lifeline’ she was given by her club, City of Sheffield.

Amber Keegan will be forever grateful to her ‘supportive’ coaches, nutritionist and friends at the City of Sheffield for helping revive her Olympic dream.

The 26-year-old said they finally made her realise she needed professional help in her battle with an eating disorder – and now she is hoping to repay them by winning a place on TeamGB heading to Paris next summer.

“City of Sheffield Swim Squad was my lifeline,” said Amber. “I truly think the club is a beacon of how to support a swimmer through rough patches.

“It’s probably the most supportive club I’ve encountered. 

“My coach at the time had sat me down multiple times and asked if I was eating enough, and I had always assured him I was – not because I was trying to be deceptive, I just was in denial to myself about how far I’d slipped.

Always supported

“It was our nutritionist at the time who finally got through to me and made me realise I needed to talk to a professional.

“I remember the sick feeling in my gut when he asked me if food ever made me feel anxious, guilty or scared – and I hadn’t even realised that was true until he said it and told me it wasn’t normal to feel that way.

“This is a hard thing about supporting someone – you just have to keep offering help until they’re ready to accept. You can’t make someone take your help but you can keep being there so that the one day they’re ready, they accept it.

Swim England has published two documents to help raise awareness about the potential health and performance consequences associated with low energy availability.

The guidance is broken down into information for coaches, team managers, support staff and welfare officers, with a separate document focused on specific advice for athletes and parents.

To view the documents, please click here.

“Throughout my whole treatment and recovery, I was always supported and treated as a person first and an athlete second. 

“My main coaches throughout the long period it took to get me to full health [Russ Barber and Mike Taylor] only ever focused on getting me better as a person. 

“I was never placed under any pressure to race or perform and, in fact, both separately said they didn’t care if I never raced again – it was only about getting me healthy and happy again. Without their support, it would have taken me a lot longer to get myself better.”

Happier athlete is a faster athlete

Now Amber is gearing up for an ‘exciting year’ which could, ultimately, see her setting off from the Pont Alexandre III bridge and along the Seine River, the scheduled venue for the open water event at Paris 2024.

“I thought the Olympic dream was dead for me,” said Amber. 

“I’m aiming for Paris Olympics next year and the qualification for that is at the 2024 World Champs in February. I’ll give it everything, and we’ll see what happens.

“Nutrition is such an important part of my training, particularly with racing 10k. I’ve gone from being scared of carbohydrates to literally inhaling them from as many sources as possible. 

“Competing at World Championships [in Japan] was incredible and to come 18th only four months after my first 10k was pretty cool. 

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity and to prove to myself and other people struggling with their mental health that a happier athlete really is a faster athlete – and that mental wellbeing is so much more important than any body composition measurement.

“I’m so excited and motivated and happy to be doing the sport I love and grateful for every session in the water.”