Ready to race
IPSWICH achiever Kayla Clarke is "excited and a little bit scared" about representing Australia at her first Paralympics.
However, she heads to London tomorrow buoyed by her 21st birthday celebrations this week with family and friends.
The dedicated Silkstone swimmer is ranked number two in the world for 100m backstroke in her S14 class. S14 competition is for athletes with an intellectual impairment.
Clarke has a two-week national training camp in Cardiff to complete preparations for her three events at the London Paralympics.
She's contesting her favourite event, the 100m backstroke, as well as the 200m freestyle and 100m breaststroke.
"I'm hoping for a medal and PBs (personal bests)," Clarke said, having set her best times in each event at the national championships in March.
The quietly spoken Clarke is Queensland's only female competitor in swimming, which is the second-biggest competition at the London Paralympics.
Her first event, as one of 600 swimmers, is on August 31.
Clarke has trained full-time since switching to the Yeronga Park club nearly a year ago.
She previously represented the Woogaroo club at Goodna, where she achieved international success under former coach Tony Keogh.
Working with new mentor Rick Van Der Zant, Clarke recently attended camps in China as part of her preparation.
"I feel fit and a lot stronger," she said. "They (the acclimatisation camps) helped me breathe easier."
Although she has a few butterflies heading for London, Clarke has done the work.
She trains nine sessions a week at Yeronga Park club, covering up to 6km each time.
"It's a lot harder training," she said of working under Van Der Zant.
Mum Paula chauffeurs Kayla on the 30km trip each way, often twice a day.
Kayla has additional sessions in the gym and receives massage at Moorooka.
Reluctant to accept any praise, Paula was clearly proud of what her daughter had achieved.
"She trains hard and when she races, she gives it everything she's got," Paula said.
Paula will join Kayla in London, making her first overseas trip as part of a package for families of the Australian Paralympians.
Kayla's older sister Jamie and Paula's sister Brenda are also heading to the Games city to lend their support.
Clarke will maintain an intensive training program today and tomorrow before flying out tomorrow afternoon.
She's been with Van Der Zant for nearly 12 months, after four years with Keogh.
Clarke appreciates how much assistance and support Keogh gave her (see her letter on page 35).
As for why she loves swimming, she answers: "It's a good sport. It keeps you fit."
Clarke smiles when asked what her hobbies are. She answers "sleeping", such is the amount of energy-sapping training she does.
Clarke won a silver medal and set six personal best times at the International Paralympic Committee world championships in 2010. She also won medals at the 2009 Global Games in the Czech Republic and at the Pan Pacs in Canada.
"I don't get homesick as much," she said of how travelling has helped her.
Clarke is receiving equipment from new sponsors TogTastic Racing and Training Swimwear in the Waterworx Aquatic Centre at Springfield.
Born: August 6, 1991, Brisbane. Grew up in Ipswich, attending Ipswich Central and Bremer State High schools.
London Paralympics events: 200m freestyle (personal best 2.15.51), 100m backstroke (PB 1.10.26), 100m breaststroke (PB 1.24).
Favourite sportspeople: Swimmers Ryan Lochte and Eamon Sullivan, rugby league player Billy Slater.
Favourite food: Chocolate and her mum's chicken dish.
Favourite music: R&B.
Swimming highlight: Winning a silver medal in the 100m backstroke at the 2010 world championships in the Netherlands.
Other major successes: representing Australia at 2009 Global Games (winning seven medals, including four gold) in Czech Republic; the 2011 Pan Pacs (six gold medals) in Canada; and 2011 Arafura Games (14 gold, two silver and two bronze medals) in Darwin.