Alyssa’s Olympic dream

Cambridge swimmer Alyssa Lawson won four gold medals at 2023 Apollo Projects New Zealand Short Course Swimming Championships in Napier.

Alyssa Lawson’s dream of becoming one of the youngest swimmers to represent New Zealand at the Olympic Games is within tantalising reach.

“I was looking up Olympic times and I’m not that far off the 100m freestyle, so I might see if I can qualify for that,” said the year 9 St Peter’s School student, who moved to Waipā with her family from Ngatea in 2021.

“I’ve got the rest of the year to try and get there and I think I can.”

At just 13 years old, Lawson is the 13th fastest women’s open 50m freestyle swimmer in a 25m pool.

She won four gold medals at the 2023 Apollo Projects New Zealand Short Course Swimming Championships in Napier this month, breaking regional records in the 13-year-old girls’ 50m, 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle events.

The 100m record had been set by her coach Alison Fitch almost 30 years to the day earlier.

“It was my last remaining Waikato record in a 25m pool,” said Fitch, a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist who represented Aotearoa at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and the Athens Olympics in 2004.

“So I was really pleased to see it broken by a swimmer who I have spent so much time working with over the past three years.”

Fitch said part of Lawson’s winning formula was being able to “switch her focus and attention to racing very quickly”.

“She doesn’t over-think racing and stays relaxed until she needs to, so she uses her mental energy well,” she said.  “She’s a gritty racer who likes being challenged head on in a swim – it brings the best out of her.”

Lawson is gunning to become the youngest New Zealander swimmer to win gold at an Olympic Games, a feat she could achieve in Los Angeles in 2028.

“I’ve always just had this little drive in me to be the best,” the teenager said. “I don’t really know where it comes from.  My mum’s really driven so I think that’s part of where it comes from, but my will to win has always been there.”

Lawson holds 16 Waikato records and was recently offered a full swimming scholarship to St Andrew’s Anglican College on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.

Her parents are trying to work out how to make that happen.

“No successful athlete has ever really got to where they have without sacrifices and Alyssa works really hard; she trains hard, she’s very driven,” said her mother Kelly.

She said Lawson would be “gutted” to leave Fitch, who had been instrumental to her success but whose coaching role focused on younger swimmers.

Fitch said she loved Lawson’s drive.

“If she keeps working hard, setting good goals for herself, seeking advice and support from the people around her and continues to identify and develop her strengths and build her weaknesses, she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to,” she said.

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