Pupil aims for Olympic dream one lap at a time

Sarah Sykes, a Grade 7 pupil from Treverton Prep School in Mooi River, aims to be an Olympic swimmer. | Supplied

Sarah Sykes, a Grade 7 pupil from Treverton Prep School in Mooi River, aims to be an Olympic swimmer. | Supplied

Published Apr 20, 2024


Durban — Sarah Sykes dreams of becoming a professional swimmer and the Midlands schoolgirl is working her way there one lap at a time.

At daybreak when most tweens are still asleep, the 12-year-old puts on her bathing suit and plunges into a pool of cold water in pursuit of her goal.

Recently, the Grade 7 pupil from Treverton Preparatory School in Mooi River competed at the SA Regional Level 3 Championships in the Free State, clinching a gold and a bronze medal in the 50m and 100m breaststroke.

“It’s wonderful because she’d only been swimming since August, so to automatically skip level one and level two and go straight to level three is great,” said her mom, Tracey Sykes.

Sarah participated in six events at the championships: the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke, the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. She made it to the finals for all three breaststroke races and the 50m freestyle, said Sykes.

She said swimmers from several provinces and as far afield as Namibia competed against each other.

“What they do is they take all their times, so they’ve had to have reached certain times to be able to compete and the times have to be of a certain standard,” she said.

Sarah was the victrix ludorum in her school galas this year and last year.

Sykes said given her daughter’s dedication, her achievements were not surprising.

“Sarah is very, very passionate about her swimming, very dedicated.

“She will sometimes drag me off to take her to the school pool at 5 or 5.30am so she can get home before school and take a shower.”

“Last year she was really keen to get into a club, and in August we started with the Penguin Swimming Club, so we go down to Hilton from Mooi River for her to train. She hadn’t been there long when her coach said she could start swimming in competitions, and so it’s just gone from there,” said Sykes.

When the Independent on Saturday interviewed the 12-year-old this week, Sarah said she was “fine but a bit busy”.

The secret to her success is competing against herself and trying to outdo those ahead of her.

Sarah said participating in Bloemfontein was a memorable experience even though it was physically challenging.

“That’s where training comes in. You just have to push and get fit and you also need to eat the right foods. I like hummus and pretzels and lots of proteins and energy bars.”

Sarah’s idols are South African Olympians, Kaylene Corbett and Tatjana (Schoenmaker) Smith.

“Breaststroke is my preferred stroke and both of them are very good at breaststroke, and it just inspires me every time I watch them,” she said.

Her hobbies include running and playing hockey at school, but swimming is much more than that.

“It’s a dream of mine to do it professionally one day,” said Sarah.

Reaching the Olympics is part of that dream.

Independent on Saturday