Clare Dawson's time has come, her talent blooming as never before. Behind the shy smile and the Bambi eyes, lies a burning desire that has never been quenched.
The fall-out rate of swimmers once they hit their late teens has always been high on this island but Dawson maintained an incremental development and over the past 18 months it has rocketed.
Always a top Ulster performer, the recent Irish championships compounded her belief that she can now cut it on the international stage having clocked qualifying times for the European Championships in Budapest and Commonwealth Games in India.
Having been overshadowed in the headline stakes by the likes of Melanie Nocher and Julie Douglas as she excelled in her teens at City of Belfast and Bangor, Dawson's now making her own mark and challenging herself to deliver on the international stage having competed at last year's World Championships.
Based at Stirling University for the past four years, the Belfast woman — a member of Bangor ASC — will also graduate this summer in psychology before going on to do a Masters degree part time as she sets her long term sights on London 2012.
“I think my biggest asset is my deep determination,” says 22-year-old Dawson.
“I have been consistently doing PBs and I never thought about giving up. I always felt I had more to offer and the great support of my mum and dad has helped me maintain that determination. Over the past 18 months there has been a huge change for me with the coaching set up.
“I've always been the type of person who wants to do better and even though I've gone to a
new level, I still have that desire. I missed out on the Commonwealth Games four years ago and that just made me even more determined to make it and now I am in the frame for the Commonwealth Games and I'm going to the European Championships.
“Being at the World championships last year was a big boost, competing alongside the cream of world swimming and now I have set myself the goal of making the semi-finals at the European Championships this summer.
“I plan to do my Masters over two years part time so that will give me the time I need to have a real shot at making the London Olympics.”
Dawson's development has seen her evolve into a strong 100m and 200m freestyler and only two years ago the 50m distance would have been a priority and the longer event hardly on her radar.
Now she holds the 100m free Irish and Ulster senior long course records and just missed the 200m time held by disgraced Olympian Michelle De Bruin at the recent Irish championships.
“The changes made at Stirling have transformed me. Everything is here for me on campus and I live on the campus. Stirling has become one of Great Britain's intensive swimming centres and that has help me a lot. Rob Greenwood has come in — he was at the Olympics in 2000 so he knows what it's all about at the top level. He works with the sprinters and Doug Frost, Ian Thorpe's coach works with the long distance swimmers,” says Dawson who trains six days a week — pool time in the mornings and land work in the afternoons with a diet of studies, food and sleep in between.
“There's a high intensity, quality coaching with the big focus on technique then taking the time for recovery. He knows everything about swimming and can pass on a lot of knowledge
and I feel I'm really feeling the benefit. It's very specific for me and I can have my own input as well which I like.”
Dawson clearly knows the benefit of a high performance environment — like so many of our swimmers who have to leave home in order to make it at the top level but she hopes that can change with the building of a 50m pool in Bangor.
“The 50m pool in Bangor should be a big benefit. There's a lot of good Northern Irish swimmers coming through and it will be of great benefit for them to have that facility but they need to have a full structure there with everything the swimmers need and then they can develop at home.”
Dawson’s development has certainly hit a new level and she intends to break this ceiling as well in Budapest and Delhi.