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Emma and Rebecca's sister act making major waves as they move up in world

By David Kelly

It has been said that the water chooses you rather than you deciding to pursue a career in swimming. It doesn't take long in the presence of sisters Emma and Rebecca Reid to see clearly that they are in sync with such a thought - while mum and dad Norma and Trevor are representative of many parents across the country who act as taxi drivers, sponsors and all-round support units for their sporting kids.

Over the past few years the sisters, helped by the Mary Peters Trust, have developed into two of the top juniors on the Irish scene and this summer will be extra special after Rebecca recently booked a place alongside Emma on the plane to Hungary for the European junior championships - often seen as the gold standard for youth swimming.

The moment came at the Ulster Age Group championships at Bangor's Aurora complex and for Emma, 16, it was one she will never forget as Rebecca, 14, hit the wall in the 200m individual medley.

"I just burst into tears when I saw the time, I knew she had done it and we would both be going to the European juniors," said Emma and the tears would continue when mum Norma was hit with the reality that the season's goal had been completed.

Norma interjected: "I was okay until an Ards mummy came to me and the tears were running down her face and she said 'Your Emma has made me cry!' She proceeded to tell me why and that's when I started. They're two great girls and knowing how committed they are, it's going to be very special to see them travel off together in July to Hungary."

She may not have added to the river of tears but there was still a sense of shock for Rebecca. "When I finished the race I didn't think I had qualified, I didn't think I had gone fast enough - it didn't feel that good but then when I saw the time I knew I was there," said Rebecca.

"Emma had competed at the European juniors last year in Baku and she had done the qualifying time for this year's championships. Emma had told me all about it and that really inspired me - she always inspires me, with the times she has done and the big events she has been to.

"At the start of the season I wanted to be with her at the European juniors and now we're there it's fantastic."

The journey for butterfly star Emma started when she had to overcome a fear of the water as a six year-old and once that was conquered she didn't look back. Initially the two were with the Bangor club before moving to Ards where they have thrived under the coaching of Nelson Lindsay and Davy Johnston.

As with all young elite swimmers, the managing of time between school work and training is critical with little left over for hobbies or socialising. The weekly programme of 5.30am training only allows for Saturdays off, the chance to catch up with any homework or revision - in Emma's case - for upcoming lower sixth exams at Regent House.

"I think people underestimate just how much hard work it takes to even take 0.3 seconds off a personal best, never mind a second. Swimmers understand the value of it," says Emma.

"The hardest part is getting up in the morning. When I get up then Rebecca does, I think that's one thing I'm better at. But she beats me in all the strokes except butterfly.

"We really support each other, we are very close and sometimes we are so close it's scary because we even seem to think the same things - at Christmas we opened exactly the same present at the same time and then said exactly the same thing.

"I think it's important that we have each other, having the same mindset. If we didn't have each other it would be much harder to be as dedicated and to compete at this level.

"We're also very lucky to have two great coaches in Nelson and Davy. They're two different personalities and they work really well together. Davy is really encouraging and Nelson has so much knowledge. The whole club is buzzing at the moment, everyone is feeding off each other - there's no prima donnas, we just get on with the hard work."

Trying to escape from the intoxicating nature of the sport is not easy for both teenagers. For Rebecca it is the comedy series The Big Bang Theory and Emma her love of reading, as mum Norma explained.

"Emma loves her books, so much so that last summer when she competed at the World junior championships she got through eight books in two weeks. Before going from the World juniors in Singapore to the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa I actually had to take new books with me when I flew out and to swap them over so it wouldn't effect her baggage weight!" said Norma.

"Rebecca loves The Big Bang Theory, she loves Penny. We have a Big Bang trivia quiz game and she knows all the answers - it's good for them to switch off when they can because it's a very demanding sport.

"A lot of people don't quite understand the commitment and I get some comments like 'are the girls really that into the sport?' and I have to explain to them that it is their choice, not mine. Neither their dad or me were swimmers, it's their sport and we support them as best we can."

The next stop is this week's Irish long course championships in Dublin and then the focus will turn to Hungary - which happens to be the home of one of Rebecca's heroes, Katinka Hosszu - arguably the finest female swimmer in the world.

"I love Katinka, she does the medley like me. She's just awesome and someone that I can learn so much from. She's so precise in everything she does and when I go to training I realise I need to be like that," says Rebecca.

"Swimming is a lifestyle and I'm just glad that Emma and I have each other. This summer is going to be great."

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