Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

The brother and sister athletes proving they're fit... in every sense

Swimmer Bethany Carson and her gymnast brother Luke enjoy making their bodies pay... for their Olympic ambitions, as they tell Stephanie Bell

Strike a pose: Bethany Carson
Strike a pose: Bethany Carson
Pecs appeal: Luke Carson takes his training seriously
Pecs appeal: Luke Carson takes his training seriously
High hopes: Luke Carson competing

They are the sporting siblings who have been blessed with many talents. Both elite athletes with their sights set on making it to the next Olympics in Rio, brother and sister Luke and Bethany Carson from Lisburn have now become the latest sensations in fitness modelling.

Blonde beauty Bethany (21) is a world record breaking swimmer while Luke (23) is Ireland's number one gymnast.

Since they were kids, dedicating their spare time before and after school to training and making it to the top in their chosen sports, their lives have run on many parallels.

Now the naturally gifted pair, who also share the good look gene, are enjoying joint new careers as fitness models which they say has come about as a necessity to fund their sporting ambitions.

Alex McGreevy from Belfast, who runs MG Sports Management, jumped at the chance to get the two young stars on board and hasn't been in the least surprised at the impact they are making in the modeling world.

He says: "They have a lot going for them. They can compete at international level and are both very good-looking, so they are perfect for fitness modeling."

Luke's perfectly honed torso and amazing pecs have already caught the attention of a top sports brand Machine Fitness who have signed him up and he has featured in Men's Health magazine three times with many other offers on the table.

The 23-year-old recently won his first major fitness modelling contest Mr Sport Europe.

Stunning sister Bethany, who since the age of 12 has started her day with a 5am two hour swim, has also made a big splash as a model and recently completed her first Irish magazine shoot.

Growing up in Lisburn, sport was part of their daily lives – their parents Michael, a GP and Julie, a housewife, were keen athletes, as is their older brother, Chris, a student, who plays rugby and American football.

Both decided in their mid teens that they wanted to make it a career.

In 2010, Luke moved to Huntingdon in England to train with some of the best coaches and gymnasts in the world, and where his training partner is Olympic silver medallist Louis Smith.

Then in 2011, Bethany moved to Dublin – joining the high-performance centre at the National Aquatic Centre.

Bethany, who also started a degree in Sports Science and Health at University College Dublin last month, has represented Ireland at various galas around the world and Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi three years ago along with her brother.

Last year she broke the long standing 100m butterfly record of Olympic gold medallist Michelle Smyth. Her aim now, like her brothers, is for the Olympics in Rio.

It was because sponsorship is so hard to secure that Bethany and Luke have turned to modelling.

Bethany says: "Luke and I were trying to figure out ways to make some money and keep busy.

"We just thought we would try modelling and if it works out then great and if not then at least we tried. It was something different and we are both enjoying it. It's challenging in different ways to sport and you also get to meet so many new people.

"Last year Sport NI was good enough to support me with funding which is such a big weight off your shoulders but since then mum and dad have been funding me and Luke.

"They would do anything for us and we are so grateful for their support but we wanted to try and do something so that they wouldn't have to fork out."

Luke also sees it as a practical necessity and says he is surprised by how well it has taken off.

Ireland's number one ranked gymnast, he has represented Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games and Ireland at world level.

He says: "It's been awesome. I've been contacted by photographers from all over England wanting to do shoots.

"I didn't expect it to be as effective. I'm not making much money from it, but I hope that will come.

"At the moment it's about getting my face out there and building my profile. I'm really grateful to Machine Fitness who are sponsoring my sports gear. When a company like that takes an interest in you and invests in you it makes life a little bit easier.

"We've been lucky that our parents have been so supportive of our careers. We really have had to depend on the Bank of Mum and Dad. They are the only reason I've been able to continue, as the funding is so terrible and they are the reason I have been able to come to England and train full-time with one of the best coaches in the world."

Both athletes have had been dedicated since a very young age.

Bethany started swimming "for fun" when she was 12 and her competitive side soon took over when she started to race in her first local galas.

"I started to do well and was training every morning for two hours before I went to school.

"When I was 15 I went to the junior European championships and I just thought I must be some way good if I am getting to competitions like this.

"I think it was when I was 17 that I decided I wanted to do it full time. I was just recovering from a back injury which took me quite a long time to get over and which helped me to realise that I didn't want to do anything but swim.

"We come from quite a sporting family, although it was never pushed on us, it just happened that we were good at it.When I started competing for Ireland it really made the early mornings and all the training worthwhile."

Luke was seven when he started to go to a weekly gymnastics class in Salto in Lisburn.

His natural ability was spotted within a year and he was scouted by a Northern Ireland squad member.

Like his sister he was in his mid-teens when he decided he wanted to pursue the sport full time. He trains 32 hours a week and last year qualified for the Olympics in London but was devastated when he couldn't take part because of an injury.

He has come back stronger than ever this year, qualifying for the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships and won the Northern Ireland Championships in June, setting three personal bests.

For a brother and sister to have similar sporting success is unique and Bethany and Luke have been greatly encouraged by each other.

A personal highlight of their careers so far was qualifying together for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010.

Bethany says: "It's so great to have Luke to talk to and relate to.

"The Commonwealth Games in 2010 was an experience I will never forget. With us being brother and sister there was a lot of interest in us, but the most enjoyable part for me was that we got to spend time together.

"It was great to have Luke there and we were able to give each other encouragement.

"I've never met anyone who trains as hard as Luke in my whole life.

"To go to the 2016 Olympics in Rio would be the best and it would be unbelievable if Luke and I could get there but I'm not getting ahead of myself.

"I thought not making London 2012 that I wouldn't be bothered watching it but after the first day I got hooked along with everyone else. Seeing the atmosphere in London has made me more determined to try and make it to Rio."

Luke values his little sister's success every bit as much and says he cherishes their time together at the Commonwealth Games.

Luke says: "Bethany being there too brought some normality to a surreal situation.

"It made it a lot easier and it was one of the most fantastic feelings to be halfway across the world in Delhi and to have my little sister there knowing that she was going through the same emotions as me.

"We ended up have an apartment close to each other in the athletes' village which was quite strange and it was like being at home after a day's training having dinner together."

Now, with promising careers as models as well as top athletes, this special brother and sister act really do have the world at their feet.

How Luke's vaulting ambition could be shattered after a painful injury

A devastated Luke Carson has spent a tense two weeks facing the possibility that a fresh leg injury could end his promising gymnastics career.

Luke qualified for the London 2012 Olympics but missed out because of a stress fracture last year.

He faced a long recovery but came back this year stronger than ever by qualifying for the European Championships, the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and winning the Northern Ireland championships, setting three personal bests.

But two weeks ago while training for the World Championships which were held last weekend in Antwerp, he was shattered when his leg broke again.

Luke spent over a week in hospital unable to move and last Thursday attended the country's leading sports surgeon at Princess Grace Hospital in London.

He missed out on the Championships in Antwerp and was terrified his injury this time might end his career as a world-class gymnast.

He says: "It was a bizarre incident. I was at the pre-World Championships training camp.

"I was running down and took off when I felt the bone snap and I knew straightaway it was bad.

" I was screaming with the pain. Usually it is on landing that you can do the damage so it was very weird that it happened to me in mid-air.

"I have been so motivated to come back this year to show everyone that I should have been at the Olympics and was actually stronger and better than ever so for this to happen is just devastating. It has been a pretty horrific week in hospital not being able to move."

Luke travelled to London last Thursday to have the injury assessed by Professor Fares Haddad at Princess Grace Hospital, who is one of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the world.

On Friday he was given the prognosis and although nothing is guaranteed, he is hoping that after surgery and another lengthy recovery period that he will get back to competing on the world stage again.

He says: "Professor Haddad recommended that I should get my existing metal work taken out and a titanium rod placed up through the tibia, then have a bone graft and finish off with injecting a bone healing agent to help speed bone growth and healing.

"In his opinion this could be the most successful surgical option and should be the better option to give me the best healing time.

"The only risk with this surgery is that it can sometimes leave you with knee problems as the rod goes up to the knee. However, he believes he is skilled enough to avoid this and leave me without major problems in my knee.

"The good news is that he also believes he will have me back to gymnastics."

A determined Luke is now hopeful of recovering and returning to his career.

He says: "I am going to try with every molecule inside my body to get to the 2014 Commonwealth Games and compete.

"It will certainly be hard, testing and emotional, but the way I see it is that I have done this all before and I can't let adversity get the better of me, not after everything I have been through to get this far."

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