Meet Ipswich teenager who wakes up at 4.20am every day in pursuit of Olympic dream

PUBLISHED: 16:02 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 18:34 26 January 2020

Copleston Sixth Form student Sam Perkins, who is aiming to compete as an Olympic swimmer in the future. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Copleston Sixth Form student Sam Perkins, who is aiming to compete as an Olympic swimmer in the future. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH


At 4.20am, most of us are fast asleep and dread being woken up by the alarm for work.

Sam Perkins in the pool. Picture: COURTESY OF DE PHOTOSSam Perkins in the pool. Picture: COURTESY OF DE PHOTOS

But teenage swimmer Sam Perkins, who competes at national level, is one of Ipswich's earliest risers - because he believes it will make all the difference to reaching his Olympic dreams.

Resisting the temptation to hit the snooze button, the 17-year-old has a light breakfast of a couple of crumpets or some bagels before heading to Crown Pools for 5am.

By 5.15am he is in the water for a gruelling 1hr 45min workout in the pool, practising the strokes he hopes will one day help him reach Olympic glory and beat the likes of Michael Phelps.

By the time it reaches 7am, he has already done more of a workout than many of us manage in a week - but then goes off to Copleston Sixth Form for a full day of college.

His A-level studies of psychology, sociology and physical education are important to him, so he can often be found getting stuck into homework in the two hours between his morning swim and the start of college.

But the day for Sam, who incredibly was scared of water as a young boy, is not yet done.

After college he goes for another long practice session at Crown Pools, making sure he is tucked up in bed by 9pm so he can do it all again the following day.

While Sam does not have practice sessions at weekends, there are often competitions at pools around the country that he is taking part in.

On a clear weekend, he also has a gym set up at his grandparents' house so he can build up his general fitness.

It is a level of commitment few of us could even comprehend, with skills of time management that betters many adults.

Yet while Sam admits that he sometimes - understandably - feels the strain, he said: "I just train myself to stay awake a lot of the time and keep going.

"I know what I need to do. I know how hard the training is. There's a level of commitment you have to have for the sport you're in."

'Best the best that you can be'

For Sam, it was a dream that started as a year-six pupil at Britannia Primary School, when he drew a picture of himself with an Olympic gold medal round his neck during an activity where youngsters were encouraged to "be the best you can be".

He caught the swimming bug when he was aged around four or five - but, perhaps surprisingly, he did not originally take to it like a duck to water.

"I just didn't really want to go into the pool," he said. "I was afraid of water."

Often those scared of swimming tend to give up, but Sam said he knew he "just needed to overcome that barrier".

Many of us will be familiar with getting certificates for our 10m breast stroke or back stroke, but as Sam got more and more confidence in the pool the awards racked up.

He said that, in many ways, the "biggest rewards were the certificates before going onto higher competition".

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But with his love of swimming, he was eager to go onto higher things.

Olympic goals

Joining Team Ipswich Swimming, he stepped up the training sessions and entered more and more competitions, always targeting new personal bests.

The results speak for themselves, with Sam totting up more than 100 medals in various contests around the country and being ranked among one of the country's best young swimmers.

Winning a medal is always a great achievement, but Sam often treats contests as part of the training for the big competition he hopes one day to reach - the Olympics.

And his sights are clearly set much further when he says: "There are lots of sports where medals are important but the thing when you get one now is that it's just something towards the big goal that you want to get to."

For Sam, that is to not only emulate but beat the best at the Olympics of 2024 or 2028.

While he sees the likes of Adam Peaty and Michael Phelps as role models to aspire to, he said: "You want to be better than what they were. The times will always get quicker - the next generation of swimmers will be better than the previous one.

"It's going to be really hard, but I've just got to take it one step at a time."

He might have some way to go before matching Phelps' famous 12,000 calorie a day diet - he currently eats about 3,000 calories.

And he knows that reaching Olympic level will take a huge amount of hard work, tougher even than his current regime.

Future plans

For the time being, he wants to focus on his sixth-form studies "because I'd rather get school done and get the grades".

He the plans to take a couple of years out to focus on swimming, before hopefully winning a scholarship to university in America to study sports psychology alongside swimming training.

Sam knows the "training regime is really hard" but is confident that is the place that will prepare him best for Olympic glory.

"It's just a requirement for you to be as good as you want to be," he said.

"When I first began waking up at 4.20am, I found it really hard.

"However I've just got used to it. Sometimes, I even wake up 5mins before my alarm.

"I've got no problem with waking up in the morning. It's something I enjoy doing. I like training."

Asked what he think is the key ingredient to success, he said: "Commitment.

"If you have a dream, you should just it no matter what. If you think someone is going to beat they will.

"The only thing holding you back is yourself."

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