Darren Leach - Autobiography

 

Darren Leach diving
BBC and Meridian filming

Darren Michael Leach   D.O.B:  5/2/1976
Born: Pembury, Kent

October 2011

I have always lived in Kent, mainly in Tonbridge where I currently reside and also Southborough and Tunbridge Wells.

All my life I have been interested in sport, not just swimming, but also athletics, snooker, football amongst others. I have found my height, 6’7’’, and natural strength an advantage in many areas. However, it is swimming that I excel at. I was a late starter, learning to swim when I was 12 and unfortunately, was not noticed until I was 14 which meant that I initially missed an important stage of training and development. However, I was lucky in being taught by the inspirational Dennis Parker who was the Head Coach at Sevenoaks Swimming Club and my PE Teacher at Dorton House for the Blind and Visually Impaired. During this time I competed for the School at National level, winning medals, mainly silver due to the fact that there were only 2 age groups into which that the competitors were divided.

In 1992, I entered Dorton House College where I studied for a GNVQ in Tourism and Leisure and at the same time I was awarded a Sports Scholarship under Dennis Parker at Sevenoaks S.C. I continued with success until I was selected to compete in a gala for Sevenoaks on my birthday and my parents had arranged a surprise 16th birthday which I was not at. This caused a lot of friction at home. Through the following weeks I found it harder and harder to keep up the training as I was clashing with my father who did not support what I hoped to achieve, until one day I was given the ultimatum to move out or fit in with what he wanted. I chose to move out.

I started residing in a bedsit in Tonbridge for a month until I was evicted. The next two months where the worst of my life; I had no roof over my head, no money and no food. I slept under bridges, in sheds, fields and anywhere that gave me shelter. Fortunately, I found out about a homeless charity called The Bridge Trust, they gave me accommodation in one of their houses and I stayed with them for 2 years.

When I started swimming again at RTW Monson under Mick Geer in 1997, I was selected for my first international: the European Championships. I won 3 Bronzes and that made me to achieve even more. A year later I was selected for the World Championships where I won 3 Gold and a Silver medal.

1999 was a particularly good year for me as I met my wife to be, I moved into my own flat and swam at my 2nd European Championships winning 3 Gold and 2 Silver medals.

In 2000, I became a father to a lovely daughter and also I was selected for the Sydney Paralympics. I feel that this was the highlight of my swimming career so far: swimming in 5 races I won 2 Silver and 2 Bronze medals.

In the 2001 European Championships I won 4 Gold and 2 Silver medals; I also wrote my own piece of history when in becoming the first Disability swimmer in Great Britain to swim under 26 seconds for the 50m Free Style.

2002 was a busy year with my marriage, winning a wife for a change, the arrival of another much-loved daughter and 3 Golds, 2 Silvers and a 4th and a 5th at the Commonwealth Games where I was ranked England’s number one multi-disability swimmer.

Catastrophically, as a result of a car crash we lost our youngest daughter in the November of 2003. This was not a good year for swimming and following her loss everything started to fall apart. I was selected for the Athens Paralympics in 2004 but a month before we were due to leave the Performance Director decided to remove me from the team as I was not training to my usual standard. My coach Mick Geer explained that I was still grieving. I attended the Games but did not enjoy them as I felt nobody knew how to talk to me; it was a very lonely games. I paced the floors at night thinking of my daughter, I had an infection under one of my teeth which got worse as the village dentist could not remove it without consent from the GB doctor and they would not give it, possibly due to concerns with drug tests; so I did not compete well.

After Athens, I retired from swimming for a while to spend time with my family. During 2005 and 2011 I became a qualified swimming teacher then a Coach and I am now the Head Coach at Tonbridge Swimming Club.  

 

©Louise Giblin. All rights reserved.

View Darren’s body casting session, training session and interview with the sculptor on YouTube