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Lewis Travels the World in Pursuit of Water Polo Dream

Friday, 08 July 2016

Last Summer, Lewis Daly left Bolton School with a clutch of A levels and his university entry sorted (he starts at Liverpool University in September 2016 studying Biological and Medical Science). However, the lure of international travel and a chance to further develop his water polo playing abilities was too strong. Here, he recaps his gap-year. 

"Having just finished my Bolton School career, it was time for the next chapter in my life. I had spent nearly my whole life in the school, starting at Beech house back in 2004, I had progressed through the years completing the necessary exams and spending a lot of time in the pool. During my last 2 years I completed my A-levels as well as becoming Vice-Captain of my school, which was a huge honour. Alongside these commitments I had represented my country in the sport of water polo. The sport has played a huge role in my life ever since I started playing when I joined the Senior School in Year 7 and since then my playing career has developed up to the point where at the end of Year 13 I was considering deferring my entry to university and travelling to chase higher level training in other countries.

By the time September 2015 came around I had deferred my entry to university and organised to travel to 3 different countries in order to explore and experience the different cultures as well as gain memories I was sure would last a lifetime!

My first stop was Eger, Hungary. A short 2 hour coach ride outside the capital, Budapest, I arrived in the small Hungarian town which I had visited twice in the past few years for intense training camps with the international team. Here, I was reunited with my GB coach from 2013, Csaba Rull, who lives in Eger with his family and is well integrated within the water polo community in this town with one of the most successful teams in the country. Csaba had organised my accommodation for me and to train with one of the top university teams in the country. This was a huge privilege and I started training the very next day. I arrived the next day to the outdoor pool where I met the rest of the team, who all seemed very nice and were very welcoming. A few minutes later the coach arrived and I went introduced myself. There was just one problem, he didn’t speak any English and any that he did speak was extremely broken. I knew the following few weeks would be very interesting! Monday night was swim set night and having not trained that frequently over the summer period, I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. The coach had assigned me one of the players to be my translator so after a quick translation we began. The team trained every single day so it was expected that I may be slightly slower than them but their level of fitness was a lot higher than I was expecting. I knew I had a lot of work to do. The following few weeks were extremely challenging but I am sure I learnt a lot from training as well as watching the senior team play in the arena. The one thing I had missed about Eger is the open air pool, as there is nothing better than training in the fresh air as the sun sets, although the pool side changing can get slightly unpleasant when the temperature drops to 4/5 degrees. I participated in training every day for 6 weeks and reminisced as I remembered the training I participated in with the GB team a few years back. I got noticeably fitter and stronger and very much enjoyed the games I played with the team.

The next destination on my gap year was India; here my goal was different, instead of playing water polo, I would be volunteering in a local orphanage in a town called Goa, 2 hours' plane journey south of Mumbai. I spent my mornings and lunchtimes with the most amazing children who were part of the Dom Bosco orphanage in Mapusa. Mornings consisted of prayers, a walk and a few hours of study, followed by lunch which comprised mostly rice and curry, most of which I was unsure of what was inside. The children spoke very basic English but were more than happy just to play football or catch in the playground. When I say playground, in my opinion it didn’t really count as a playground, it was more a sandy, rocky slightly even patch of open space, I couldn’t tip toe here never mind run and jump like the kids were doing. Seeing how the children lived made me realise how incredibly lucky I was to even own the clothes I did. These children owned two pairs of clothes and slept on the cold hard floor, and yet they were the most energetic, enthusiastic and happy children I had ever met. After 7 weeks in Goa I felt incredibly sad to be leaving the kids I had grown attached to, hopefully I’ll be back very soon to catch up and learn even more about these amazing kids.         

I arrived in Australia at the beginning of January and met my uncle at the airport. I have to say the ability to drink the tap water and have a hot shower that lasted longer than 30 seconds was extremely nice. He had lived here for 5 years and so whilst I got settled, I lived with him. Before I left England I had contacted local water polo clubs to try and gain a place in a team over here. I received many offers but one stood out from the rest; the Balmain Tigers is a very large and competitive team here in Australia. The team asked the head coach of my home team, Theo Nousios of City of Manchester, about my playing standard and after a little while I was invited down to Dawn Fraser Baths in Sydney to be introduced to the rest of the team. As I began training twice a week I noticed the quality of the water polo here was a step up from what I was used to. We were being coached by the London 2012 Olympic goalkeeper, James Clarke. After being integrated into the squad I began to play for the M2 and M3 squad, missing out on the opportunity to play national league (top division) due to joining the team half way through the season. The results of our games were varied, containing mostly a mix of wins and draws with the occasional loss. At the end of the season we finished 4th. After this competition I was selected to play in the U20 state championships, we went into the competition with high hopes but unfortunately underperformed when it really mattered and came away with a disappointing 6th place. What I didn’t realise though, is at this competition there had been talent scouts for the New South Wales state team, these coaches had been watching the games and looking for potential players to represent the state in an international competition in a few months. Much to my surprise I was invited to the trials, where 45 players from all over the state competed for the 22 spots in the 2 state teams, the Blues and the Waratahs. For the next few weeks I eagerly awaited the email with the team lists and although I had no expectations, one cold Sydney evening I received some very good news. I had been selected for the NSW Blue team to represent the state in the Pan Pacs competition in New Zealand in July! This was a huge achievement for me and I very excitedly called my parents as soon as I found out the news. The workload of my training programme then increased, with numerous training camps with 5am starts and frequent swim sets began to take over my weekends. At the moment the team and I are two weeks out from competition and with preparations going very smoothly, we hope to make a significant impact in the tournament where we will face teams from New Zealand, Australia, Asia and America.

It has been amazing for me to be able to travel and experience different levels of international water polo. I'm hoping I will have raised my game, fitness and strength and return to the UK a better player. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the three different countries and would 100% recommend the experience to anyone considering taking a gap year to further their sporting career or even just to experience the wider world outside of school life!"

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Lewis during his A level studies at Bolton School

Lewis during his A level studies at Bolton School