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Danielle Huskisson : Open learning

July 14, 2013
Danielle Huskisson only raced her first 10k in May but she is already taking on the world Photograph: Martin Shields

Danielle Huskisson only raced her first 10k in May but she is already taking on the world Photograph: Martin Shields

Like many young women her age, Danielle Huskisson is headed for the balmy climes of the Med this summer. But in stark contrast to her peers, there will be no languishing on a sun lounger or sipping sangria on the beach.

The 20-year-old University of Stirling student will compete in the 10k marathon swim as the 2013 Fina World Championships get under way in Barcelona this week. By Huskisson’s own admission it has been a whirlwind few months. It was only in May that she competed in her first 10k open water event.

That debut, battling 30mph winds and icy temperatures at the Portuguese Open Water Nationals in Montemor-o-Velho, saw her finish as first Briton home and second overall to claim her place in the British world championship team.

She joined team-mate and Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne at the test event in Barcelona last month, providing a taster of the potentially testing conditions that lie ahead.

“It was great to see the course and I’d never swam in the sea before so it was useful to get the experience of competing in salt water,” says Huskisson. “There is a lot to take in. You have to be aware of everything around you and stay focused. We were swimming in a harbour so when the boats went past they did make a fair amount of waves.”

Huskisson’s foray into open water came following a strong showing in the 800m and 1500m freestyle events at the British Gas International Swimming Meet in Leeds in March. Despite having only previously done a couple of 3ks and a lone 5k near her hometown of South Shields, Sunderland, she reckoned it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Huskisson deftly plays down the rigours of what is clearly a steep learning curve, but asked if she imagined this time a year ago that she would be heading to compete at the World Championships, she said: “Definitely not. It’s a huge surprise. Portugal was the first time I’d even done 10k. It was always a distance I was unsure of, but I’m so glad I did now.”

Open water swimming certainly isn’t a sport for the faint of heart. Two-time world champion Payne has spoken of encountering old shopping trolleys, jellyfish, sharks, dead dogs and even a horse’s head as she has navigated competition courses around the world.

Huskisson laughs when the topic is raised. “I’ve not had anything like that yet,” she says. “But you can’t be squeamish. You just have to get on with it.”

Funded through Scotland’s high performance sports scholar-ship programme, Winning Students, Huskisson does the majority of her training indoors, clocking up around 7km at each of 10 weekly swimming sessions.

She trains at the University of Stirling under the tutelage of Rob Greenwood who also coaches rising Scottish hopeful Ross Murdoch, the star of the recent British trials in Sheffield when he broke the one-minute barrier and beat compatriot Michael Jamieson to win the 100m breaststroke.

Her other British Gas ITC Stirling team-mates include Jak Scott and Josh Walsh, also selected for the World Champion- ships, Lewis Smith and Ryan Bennett, currently competing in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, and Dan Sliwinski, who set a British 50m breaststroke record last month.

A smile appears when asked if Stirling is the place to watch as a burgeoning hot house of swimming talent. “Could be,” she says. “There is a few of us who have had an exciting summer so far.”

Her own focus and determin-ation to succeed are palpable. Rare down time would appear confined to weekly visit to the cinema. “But life is mostly all about training,” she says.

Huskisson and Payne have grown close, spending three weeks together at an altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain, last month. “She was lovely and taught me so much about tactics, things to watch out for and things like that,” says Huskisson. “Her advice is amazing because Keri-anne is the best at what she does. I find her easy to talk to.”

There was another stint training at altitude in Arizona in January. “It was hard,” she admits. “I struggled a lot the first time, but it definitely has had its benefits. I had PBs all season, so it was worth all the pain.”

With no open water event in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where Huskisson hopes to represent her native England, her goal for next summer will be a place in the 800m and 1500m events.

But for now her sights remain locked firmly on the coming days. “I would like to finish the course in Barcelona, that’s the main goal. As for placings? I haven’t thought that much about it,” she says. “I just want to go out there and make the most of the experience.”

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