WHEN a teenage Josh Walsh’s alarm clock went off at 3.40am on Wednesday mornings to wake him for swimming training, it was times like this he was probably dreaming of.
Blackburn-born Walsh will take to the start-line in the British Championships in a little under two weeks knowing that a place at this summer’s Commonwealth Games is up for grabs.
The event in Glasgow is doubling up as the selection trials for the England Commonwealth squad and Walsh is among the favourites for the 200m freestyle.
He goes into the competition with the fifth fastest personal best time and with two of those ahead of him being Scot Robbie Renwick and Welshman Ieuan Lloyd, Walsh has a chance of making his major championship individual bow.
It would be the end of a long journey for the 22-year-old which began in Blackburn.
He swam for Blackburn Centurions and Gallica as a youngster before progressing through regional and national squads and onto international level.
The former Queen Elizabeth Grammar School pupil left the family home in Hoghton to attend university in Stirling – he speaks to me from the library as he frantically combines training with finishing his dissertation for the final piece of his sports science degree – but juggling commitments is not a new problem for Walsh.
“My swimming has always had to fit around other things,” he said.
“I was kind of forced into swimming as a youngster but then I started to enjoy it. I think it was seen as a life skill that I should learn to swim so I did.
“It is a tough sport because it is always early starts. I remember getting up at 3.40am to travel down to Manchester for a training session and then travel back and go to school. That wasn’t every day but I think it was every other Wednesday.
“My dad (Peter) would drive me down or I would get a lift share with some of the others in the squad. It was certainly tough going to school after that.
“There were times when I was a kid that I wanted to switch to other things and stop doing it because I wanted to be with my friends.
“It was hard doing it as a teenager but the rewards are amazing.”
And the rewards on offer when the national championships get under way in Glasgow on April 10 would be a pinnacle of Walsh’s career to date.
He added: “I have not swam in an individual event at a major senior championships and it would be great to do so in the summer.
“It has been the main focus of the season for me.
“The 200m is the main focus. The 100m has come off the back of that really. I used to do a lot of 400m but now I focus on the 200m.”
Walsh is under no illusions how tough a test he faces to make the team given the stringent, and complicated, selection process. His personal best in the 200m freestyle is 1min 48.33secs and the Commonwealth Games qualifying time set by the English squad is 1.46.55, a time only one of the entrants in the British Championships has swam, and he’s Scottish.
If nobody swims the qualifying time, Team England will select the full quota of 36 swimmers based on those who have swam the qualifying times and then those who are closest to the time in their event up to a maximum of three per event until the team is full.
That means that even if Walsh wins the title in a personal best time he is still not assured a spot in the Games. But he’s trying not to get bogged down in the whys and wherefores.
He added: “Qualifying for the Commonwealth Games is obviously the aim but the qualifying time is tough and a couple of seconds quicker than my personal best so my coach and I have said to forget about the time and concentrate on getting a good result.
“That is where swimming differs from a lot of sports. We have this one chance to get it right and qualify and if we don’t then that’s it. If we make a mistake or have a bad day then we won’t qualify.
“The training has gone really well and I am in good shape. It’s going to be tough just to get to the final given some of the competition but I feel in a good place.”
Even if he misses out on individual selection Walsh is likely to form part of England’s 4x200m relay squad having represented Great Britain in that discipline at last year’s World Championships.
He added: “I am lucky in that I swim in an event where there are relays so hopefully I can make that squad. I would think the selectors would choose the four fastest guys and I think I can be one of them.
“I only came to relay swimming by chance really but there is something about it that you just don’t get anywhere else in swimming. You are able to have great relationships with the other guys and are not just out there on your own.
“But it will all come down to the day. Training has gone well and I am ready.”