Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Siblings Bethany and Luke Carson hoping to make a big splash

Gymnast Luke Carson and his sister, swimmer Bethany, tell Steven Beacom about their future hopes and dreams which include the Rio Olympics

Bethany Carson is hoping for a big year
Bethany Carson aims to race in the World Championships
Lisburn gymnast Luke Carson is determined to compete in the Rio Olympics

Last year Northern Ireland gymnast Luke Carson thought his world had come to an end when a serious injury requiring reconstructive surgery ruined his Olympic dream.

London 2012 had been his long time goal only for it to be cruelly ripped away from him.

The operation which included having four titanium screws drilled into his tibia and a titanium plate inserted placed question marks over his career.

Instead of giving up, the 22-year-old, who started his chosen sport in Salto Gymnastics Centre in Lisburn as a child going on to win several national titles, decided he would fight harder than ever.

On Saturday Luke will be rewarded for all his blood, sweat and tears when he competes as an all rounder on six apparatus (floor, parallel bars, pommel horse, vault, rings and high bar) in the British Championships in Liverpool.

With the determination and belief that has seen him get to this stage, when many thought he should call it quits, Carson says: "This weekend is one of my Commonwealth Games trials. I have to hit a certain score to qualify for Glasgow next year. That'll be my main target and I know I can do it."

Luke has already represented Northern Ireland at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi finishing 15th. He enjoyed the experience all the more because his younger sister Bethany was in India too, swimming for her country.

The ideal scenario for both is that they go to Scotland next year and then in 2016 make a little bit of history by taking on the best in the world at the Rio Olympics.

Seeing his good friends, including Louis Smith who won silver in London (and gold in Strictly Come Dancing), do so well last year combined with his own heartbreak of missing out on the action are proving major motivating factors for the Ulsterman.

"In terms of the injury it was degenerative," he says.

"There wasn't anything specific. It just came over time.

"That's the nature of gymnastics. We train 33 hours per week with strenuous exercises and repetitive landings.

"My bone weakened. It first started as shin splints, then the tendon running up to the tibia started to weaken and I developed a stress fracture. I still wanted to train because I knew that I was capable of Olympic qualification so I kept pushing. Then my stress fracture developed into a full fracture and I had to have the surgery.

"I had four titanium screws drilled into my tibia because I had a fracture. I had a titanium plate put in and reconstruction surgery on my tendon. It was major stuff.

"To be honest I went through a range of emotions after the operation and it did pass through my mind that I wouldn't get back to competing. I was out for fourth months when I did absolutely no exercising on my legs.

"My whole focus had been on the Olympics and I saw someone else take the place that I knew I should have had and that killed me.

"I guess when you come to that sort of stage in your life you can either crumble and say I can't do this anymore or you can do the opposite and be more hungry than you have ever been and aim for success and have goals to get to the next Olympics or win a medal at the Commonwealth Games.

"I chose the path to come back stronger than before and so far it is working because I'm now hitting scores that I wasn't able to beforehand.

"My goal at the British Championships is to show on the six apparatus that I'm here and not finished which a lot of people may have thought because I went through such a major operation.

"My ultimate goal is the Olympics in 2016. There is no doubt in my mind I can do that.

"London did motivate me. To see the GB guys on the podium at the Olympics was incredible because I'd trained with them, competed against them and beaten some of them.

"I knew their funding would go up and that they'd be famous and a little bit of jealously crept in but at the same time I was happy for them especially Louis, who I'm good friends with. Seeing him do so well was great and a big motivating factor for me."

Carson has been training with members of the GB team at Huntingdon in the Cambridge area since 2010.

Prior to that he travelled all around the world competing in his first World Championships in Denmark seven years ago aged just 16 – he was 160th out of almost 300 gymnasts.

By the time of the 2009 World Championships in London, Luke's progression was clear when he finished 49th.

The Olympics was supposed to be the next big stepping stone, but his chance never came. The injury not only took his dream away, but also his funding.

He's now doing some modelling to try and earn some extra cash and says: "Due to my injury I couldn't hit the targets that were set for me so my funding for Sport NI has been cut. Ultimately without funding none of my dreams and aspirations will be possible.

"I'm living on savings and they are virtually exhausted. There is a possibility that I may have to finish as early as June this year so I'd be very grateful for any financial support, be it privately through a business or through sporting bodies in Northern Ireland."

--

It's a Friday morning and Bethany Carson has had her lie in. She got up at 8am. That may not seem like much of a lie in. But it is when you are normally rising from bed at 4.15am, as the Lisburn lady does as part of her strict training regime to be the best swimmer than she can be.

Like her older brother, gymnast Luke, the ultimate aim for Bethany is to compete in the 2016 Olympics.

It would be some story if the pair of them made it all the way to Rio.

And no doubt there would be special attention paid to the fact that Bethany had achieved her dream having been diagnosed as an Asthmatic, when she was a child.

What an inspiration that would be for all the youngsters who use inhalers around Northern Ireland.

The 21-year-old admits that early in her swimming career she didn't take her inhaler properly for fear of people thinking she might be cheating.

Now she is a proud ambassador of the Asthma Society of Ireland.

Bethany, bright and bubbly, says she came into the sport "quite late", joining her local club in Lisburn at the age of 11.

She's been making up for lost time since representing Ireland at various galas around the world and Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi three years ago.

The Indian experience remains her favourite in sport because Luke was right there with her.

"When we were competing together in Delhi it was great," says Bethany.

"I'd say it was probably the best experience I have had. We are close but we don't get to spend much time together because of our careers.

"We wouldn't get a chance to watch the other compete either.

"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.

"To go to the 2016 Olympics in Rio would be the best and it would be unbelievable if Luke and myself could get there.

"We've always been quite a sporty family, in terms of being healthy and active, though when I was younger I never thought I would compete for Ireland.

"I'm doing the swimming and Luke is doing gymnastics and my brother Chris, who is studying medicine in Norwich, plays American football and rugby so we're all into our sports.

"My parents have always been very supportive of us. They have never put any pressure on us."

Bethany, though, would love to face the pressure that a major championships would bring.

She was close to qualifying for the London Olympics last year and this year is hopeful of making it to the World Championships in Barcelona.

Before then the swimmer based at the High Performance Institute in Dublin, who last year broke the long standing 100m butterfly record of Olympic gold medallist Michelle Smyth, may compete in the World Student Games in Russia in July.

First though given that Bethany is on a year out from her Sports Science degree at the University of Ulster, she has to find a course in Dublin allowing her to compete.

"I'm trying to find a course that applies to the rules for the World Student Games and get registered so hopefully I can do that," she says.

"For the World Championships it is a big jump for me to qualify, but I'm going to give it a real go.

"Our last qualifying meet is the nationals in April and my best chance would be in the 200 Individual Medley.

"My best is 2.17 and the time needed for the World Championships is 2.14 high – it's a jump but I've been doing a lot more medley training and am feeling good about what I can achieve.

"Being in High Performance training is starting to pay off. I believe in the next few competitions that all the work I've been doing is going to show.

"Beating Michelle Smyth's record was one of best moments because 100m is such a short event and so hard to improve on.

"Hopefully I can break that record again this year and maybe a few others.

"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."

There is every chance that before Brazil Bethany will be based in Northern Ireland training at the new Olympic size pool in Bangor.

For now though she is content in Dublin and enjoying combining her swimming with modelling work.

She says: "It's fun. Both Luke and myself are getting involved and if we can make much needed money along the way or get sponsorship out of it that would be great."

Smiling Bethany adds: "But my swimming comes first."

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