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Chlorine runs through my veins ... it’s really special to be recognised in this way

Karen Pickering spent almost two decades dominating British freestyle swimming – now she has been inducted into the Swim England Hall of Fame.

Here she reflects on that honour and her impressive career in and out of the pool.

Karen Pickering always knew she wanted to be a swimmer.

“Swimming was the passion,” she said. “It was always what I wanted to do even before I was any good at it.

“It became my life and then my career and, since then, it has opened many doors for me.”

The latest has seen her being one of three new inductees into the Swim England Hall of Fame.

“It’s a massive honour,” said Pickering. “I was really, really chuffed when, when I got the letter about it.

“I’ve been retired now from competitive swimming for quite some time – it’s 17 years now – but I still feel like I’m part of the swimming community with the work that I do.

Very, very proud

“Chlorine runs through my veins so it’s really special to be recognised in this way.”

Pickering spent 19 years as part of the British Swimming team but told the audience at the Swim England National Awards how she had to be rescued from the bottom of the pool at the age of five and then was diagnosed with asthma two years later.

However, that failed to deter her and she went on to win an incredible 35 major championships medals and 38 national titles – while also competing at four successive Olympic Games.

Pickering was also the first British short course world champion having won gold in the 200m Freestyle at the inaugural event in Palma in 1993.

When asked what were the highlights of her career in the pool, Pickering simply said: “Many.

“I was very, very proud to represent my country for nearly 20 years. I had some incredible moments and made some very special friends.

“Back then, the World Championships were only every four years so they were such an honour to go to.

“The Commonwealth Games have always been really special.

Nice to be first

“They were the first major sporting event I remember watching as a kid. So for me, more than the Olympics, they were what first drew me to sport and to my swimming heroes, if you like.

“Winning that gold at the first World Short Course Championships in Palma and being the first British woman to win a world title was really special.

“There have been many more and there’ll be many more – but it’s nice to be the first.”

Pickering admits being a commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live and Channel 4, is the next best thing to being a competitive, international swimmer.

“When I watch the guys walk out for their races, it fills me with great memories and takes me back to those times walking onto the pool side,” she said.

“It definitely takes me back with real fondness to the adrenaline, the nerves and the excitement – all those feelings.

“But I don’t sit there wishing I was in the pool doing it. Those days are long gone.”

Pickering’s own competitive days may be over but, as head of swimming at Ardingly College, she has seen youngsters progress from their first lessons to competitive swimmers – including her own daughters.

Team effort

“My two daughters had their first swimming gala,” said Pickering. “So it begins.

“It’s really come full circle bit it’s great to see my daughters have the opportunities I had.”

She was also quick to praise her parents for the role they played in her own career.

“My dad would have absolutely loved this,” she said during her speech at the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall.

“He’s not with us unfortunately anymore but my mum is here. You can not get anywhere without the support of family.

“Mum took me to sessions and competitions and still helps out and officiates.

“She was helping before I was swimming and she is still there now.

“It’s a team effort. Even though we are an individual sport, there was a team behind me, helping me throughout my career.”