Clareburt gears up for Commonwealth Youth Games
July 31, 2017
At just 17 years, Capital swimmer Lewis Clareburt has already achieved more than others might in their whole lives. In the middle of his busy training schedule, Lewis took a moment to chat with Rosa Woods about his daily routine and what it takes to be the best of the best.
By the time the sun rises each day, Lewis has already been up for two hours. Rain or shine, four seasons a year, he arrives promptly at the Freyberg Pool ready to train before school. He doesn’t complain or roll his eyes, but instead slips on his blue Capital Swim Club cap, adjusts his goggles, and dives effortlessly into the depths of the familiar pool. Coach Gary Hollywood is there as always, and today he has a daunting 6km session planned. The thought of swimming 240 laps before breakfast would have most of us gasping for air. But for Lewis, this is just another typical day at the pool.
Lewis is refreshingly down to earth despite being New Zealand’s best under-18 swimmer. He has a lean, athletic 6’2 frame, friendly blue eyes and a surprisingly cheerful smile for someone who wakes at 5am most mornings. However, the early starts no longer faze him. In fact, they have helped mould him into the swimmer he is today.
Lewis says he always loved the water and first began swimming at three, when his parents threw him into the pool. Five years later, his two older sisters Amelia and Ali, inspired him to start swimming competitively.
“My sisters were both into swimming, it runs in the family,” he says.
Since going competitive at the age of eight, Lewis has followed a rigorous training routine, which leaves little time for other activities. “I swim in the morning, go to school, straight after school I go to the pool again and then after the pool I come home, have dinner and then do homework and go to sleep. It’s pretty tiring and I have to go to bed at like 9:30,” but you have to “make swimming your first priority, otherwise you’re never going to get there”, he says.
Later in the evening at his home, Lewis pauses for a moment, glances down at his dinner – a plate of spaghetti bolognaise – and announces that eating is his favourite hobby outside of swimming. Before continuing to elaborate on how he squeezes everything else into his loaded schedule.
“It’s pretty hard to balance a social life. On the weekends most people want to go out and have fun with their friends and I’m sort of always tired and wanting to stay home. I also have to catch up on schoolwork,” he says.
Most of Lewis’ teachers understand how hectic his training schedule can be, “but some of them don’t really know anything about swimming and don’t know how much I train, so they sort of say ‘toughen up, work harder.’ They don’t know what goes on behind closed doors”.
In early 2016 Lewis had not yet broken any national age records, or Wellington open records. Just over a year later, he is now undoubtedly the strongest swimmer in his age group. Lewis recently won eight gold medals at the New Zealand Age Group Swimming Championships (NAGS). He says it was one of the highlights of his swimming career so far, along with qualifying for the junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championship team and having the opportunity to compete in Hawaii.
Even Lewis is surprised by his sudden success, but says it is ultimately the result of years of hard work. “Last year my goal was just to get a gold medal at nationals. Gary and I sort of planned to get as many gold medals as I could, but I didn’t really expect to get as many as I did.”
Lewis has been gradually increasing training in preparation for the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas, which he and 11 other top New Zealand swimmers will fly over to attend in July. He jokes that his actual goal for the Bahamas is just to get a tan. “It’s an outdoor pool so it’ll be easy.” Beyond these immediate goals for the games, he notes that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are also on his radar.
Although Lewis is currently riding a wave of success, he admits there have been numerous ups and downs throughout his swimming career. “When I was 12 or 13 I wanted to quit. I was going through a phase where I wasn’t growing. I was the small guy and I got lapped at short course at National Age Groups and I was like ‘I can’t do this, this is horrible’. I got into surf lifesaving because I wasn’t really enjoying swimming. I wanted to quit and it was sort of just fun catching waves, I enjoyed that. My dad encouraged me into it because he was a clubby at Lyall Bay,” he says.
Proud father David Clareburt says he is thrilled with his son’s achievements. “It’s cool, he’s very humble. He’s just made a New Zealand open team as a 17-year-old and he’s going to be at the international surf challenge.” He’s also up for Wellington’s emerging sportsman of the year.
“We always knew he was capable, he’d broken Wellington records before but never New Zealand records. His times have come down really quickly as he’s got stronger and bigger and he’s worked hard.
“He had a really good coach, Timon Wilkinson, who nurtured him and kept him in the sport, kept working on his technique and didn’t push him too early and we think that’s what’s kept him. He’s had really good coaches all the way through.
“I think he loves it too, loves the training and his new coach has created a really good squad, so they’ve got a good team environment. A lot of people think swimming is an individual sport but it’s the team around you,” he says.
Lewis’ mother Robyn Clareburt recalls her son always having a fascination with water. When he was younger “he would just walk into the pool and it would be above his head, he had no fear. All the other mothers would have a nice time with their children, while I was the one running around trying to save him from drowning.”
Robyn says the moment she realised her son had an extraordinary talent was when he broke two national records, including one set nearly 25 years ago by Olympic champion Danyon Loader. “We were amazed, we just though ‘woah that’s pretty good, we’ll bring him home’.”
Even as a young boy Lewis was “very good technically and then he just didn’t grow and everyone went past him. Then he started to grow again and he’s done really well the last couple of years,” she says.
Robyn says she is glad Lewis narrowed down his commitments to focus on swimming and surf lifesaving. “He used to do rugby, cycling, tennis, swimming, surf lifesaving and golf. But he whittled them down, thank God,” she laughs.
Both of his parents agree it is a good thing “he found his niche.”