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A nation swimming

Kay Grimshaw and Eleanor Walsh awarded British Empire Medals in Birthday Honours

Swimming stalwarts Kay Grimshaw and Eleanor Walsh have been recognised by the King in the Birthday Honours list.

They have both been awarded British Empire Medals for their services to swimming and their communities.

Kay, from Lewisham, has been involved in the sport for more than 50 years as both a coach and an official at every level from club, county, regional and national levels.

She first got into the sport through her late husband – who was a regular swimmer – and hasn’t left the sport since.

After receiving the award, she said: “I was absolutely gobsmacked, I don’t know how else to put it.

“It comes in an official looking envelope from the cabinets office and I couldn’t believe it.

“There’s also a garden party at Buckingham Palace that I’ll be invited to, it’s all quite exciting.

“It’s all been marvellous”

“I wasn’t a competitive swimmer myself but I married a swimmer and swimming was his hobby.

“So if I wanted to see him at weekends I had to come down to events and I’m not someone who can just sit on the balcony and watch. I want to be involved and I want to help.

“Once we got married in 1966, I got my coaching and officials qualifications and I’ve not left the sport since.

“All of my friends are now in swimming, it’s like another family. It is the people in swimming that make it what it is. The very many friends I have made.”

Throughout her career, Kay has officiated at every level from club championships to the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and was on World Aquatics’ list of international level officials.

She’s coached, been a team manager and led a number of courses to train the next generation of staff which she’s now currently working alongside.

The time and effort Kay has been put into the sport hasn’t gone unnoticed by her region.

In 2019, she was awarded a long service award by Swim England London where she was President in 2008 as well as being a former President of her county.

The region then nominated her for the Swim England Presidency – a post which she held throughout 2009.

“I’ve been involved since we were districts rather than regions and it’s all been memorable. I still think of myself as part of the ASA to this day.

“I think I’ve been recognised for the time I’ve put because in the last 20 years it’s all the people that I’ve tutored and trained myself that are now the ones on poolside!

“It’s  incredible to still see them around and I’m still officiating at club level now. Everyone is always looking for referees and officials and I’m happy to support them when I can.

“But it’s all been marvellous. Officiating at the top level is incredible but also being at Club Championships and watching the younger ones coming through is great to see.

“The satisfaction of seeing youngsters, particularly those who have not had a good start in life, progress not just in water, but in life in general as they get confidence.

“Thank you to whoever nominated me and to my husband for getting me into swimming in the first place.

“He can’t see this but I know he would be really proud of me; I wouldn’t have been in swimming at all if it wasn’t for him.”

‘Honoured’ Eleanor awarded British Empire Medal

Eleanor Walsh, who has been a part of the Cockermouth Swimming Club coaching staff since the club was formed, was also honoured.

She was Assistant Manager at Cockermouth Leisure Centre when the pool opened in 1978 and was involved in the clubs first pool session on the night the pool opened.

Since joining Cockermouth she’s played a big part in setting up the clubs swimming programme for children and adults alike.

She said: “I was amazed and couldn’t quite believe it. I asked myself ‘why me?’. I was so honoured.

“I’ve been involved in swimming all my life. First as a swimmer, then a teacher and coach.

“I swam for Ireland for a number of years as I was born in Dublin but grew up in Carlisle where I started my swimming career aged six.

“Cockermouth SC means everything to me. I started it and built it up. It is my life.”

‘I love coaching’

She has been given the award for her services to swimming and the community in Cockermouth and the Cumbria area where she has produced more than 15 international swimmers.

“I have been involved with numerous swimmers and love them all. They’re like ‘my kids’ and are always welcome in my home.

“They have never forgotten where they started. I love coaching and watching swimmers develop and how different swimmers react to the same directions.

“I’ve had some influences along the way. People like Hammy Smith and Helen Elkington in my early days and then John Atkinson and Fred Furniss while at Cockermouth.

“But coaching is continually changing and evolving, so as a coach you never become ‘stale’ if you are not afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work then you just don’t try it again.”

One of Eleanor’s former pupils is Tokyo 2020 medallist Luke Greenbank who prior to his Olympic success, wanted to credit the likes of Eleanor who had guided him on his journey.

He said: “I still keep in contact with my coaches. I was coached by Sean Balmer and Eleanor Walsh along with a number of other volunteer coaches.

“They did an absolutely amazing job with the club. It’s a very small town so we don’t have a huge amount of swimmers but what they have got out of swimmers over the years is absolutely incredible, especially at European junior level.

“So I owe an awful lot to them and I think they have shaped who I have become as a person as well as a swimmer – they have had a huge impact on my life really.”

Eleanor said one of her special memories was watching Greenbank break the World Junior 200m Backstroke record at the 2015 European Games in Baku.

She wanted to thank her family and especially her late husband for supporting her on this journey.

“Thank you to my late husband, David for being so understanding about my love for swimming.

“I gave him stopwatch as a wedding present, and he ended up loving officiating and helping out in any way he could too.”

Image credit for photo of Eleanor Walsh and Luke Greenbank – News and Star