Alice Dearing is a history-maker in Olympic waters and her work on dry land is just a seismic.
In her time off, Dearing has continued to advocate for greater awareness of water safety education in African, Caribbean, and Asian communities as a co-founder of the Black Swimming Association.
The National Lottery supported organisation was this week announced as the 2022 National Lottery UK Project of the Year, beating off stiff competition from more than 1300 organisations.
Announcing our Project of the Year in the 2022 National Lottery Awards, the Black Swimming Association! 🏆— National Lottery Good Causes (@LottoGoodCauses) December 14, 2022
The BSA works with people in African, Caribbean, and Asian communities to promote water safety and drowning prevention. 🏊🏾 #NLAwards @BlackSwimAssoc @sportwales pic.twitter.com/ghOuLU2lRr
Indeed, this awards season has been a busy one for Dearing who won the Changemaker Award at the Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards.
She was also recognised by the Sports Journalists’ Association who presented her with the Sky Kick it Out award at last week’s British Sports Awards.
Regardless of what happens in her swimming career, Dearing will remain committed to making swimming a more diverse and accessible sport.
But she also has a competitive spirit that will not rest until she rights some Olympic wrongs.
At last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Dearing made history when she became the first black British female swimmer to compete for Team GB.
She did so in the open water event in the Japanese capital but was well off her best in the gruelling 10km race, finishing 19th.
For Dearing, now 25, it was a strange sensation to be congratulated for her historic achievement while all she could focus on was underachieving.
“I was obviously very disappointed in myself and my performance,” she said.
“I got out and had all these nice messages saying, ‘You did so well’ and I was thinking ‘Guys, I did terribly, let’s be honest’.
"People told me that’s not the point, and I get it but I’m an athlete, a competitor and that side is always going to be there. But it was incredible to help be a part of history and hopefully help showcase that this is for everybody.
"I’ve had a very positive journey through swimming. I want to make sure that other children coming up have those same experiences.
“Tokyo was amazing though; I think about it every day and I’m so driven for Paris.
"Hopefully, I can get a second chance and right my wrongs. I want to prove to myself that I deserve to be there. Obviously, I deserved to be there because I qualified but I was just so disappointed with my performance. I want to right that wrong.”
The aftermath of Tokyo has not been easy for Dearing, who had hoped to compete at the Commonwealth Games on her doorstep in Birmingham earlier this year.
Switching from open water to the pool was always going to be tricky, but even so, Dearing was surprised at how tough she found the transition – missing out at the British Championships.
It made her take a step back and reassess, realising that she needed to change her approach if she were to compete in Paris in two years’ time.
She explained: “From start of May to September this year, I took a break. It was great, I absolutely loved it. I was really struggling in the sport beforehand.
"I had a bad British Champs, I ended up pulling out of most of my events because I was ill, I swam poorly. I tried to get back into training after that, but I couldn’t find the love for it.
“There was a World Championships and European Championships that I was going to train for, and my motivation was just at zero. Mentally I didn’t want to be there, I had kind of checked out.
“My coach (Andi Manley) suggested taking a break because I knew I didn’t want to retire but the mountain I had to climb to get to Paris had clouds above it and everything above it and I couldn’t see the top.
“He suggested taking a break and it was a tough couple of days where I was toying with the idea and then I finally decided I needed to do it for myself.
"Whatever happened, happened but at least I was putting myself first. I had an amazing time; it was so good. I did everything that I have put off because of swimming. I ended up being so busy, in a really good way.”
But after two and a half months back in the water, her own focus now is back on making sure she is ready for Paris – with opportunities to qualify coming up in 2023 and February 2024 at the World Aquatics Championships.
And she admits, the return to the water has been tough.
She added: “I’m currently in my tenth week of training now, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t think it would be this hard.
“It’s not saying that I regret what I did it. I’d do it over again, I’d never change my decision, but it’s been so hard, both mentally and physically.
“Now I’m having to re-learn certain things to get my strength back. I’m getting there, it’s been a journey but I’m seeing the light now. I’m looking towards the British Champs, hopefully the World Champs in July and then another World Championships in February which are most likely where I’ll hopefully qualify for the Olympics and then Paris.
“It’s going to come so fast. As much as it’s difficult and sometimes I’ve been struggling with it, I’m just enjoying it as much as I can because it will be over one day, and it will be in a blink of an eye.”