After spending nearly half his life swimming, don’t be surprised to find that Plumstead’s Matthew Bowers, 23, has grown webbed feet, gills and fins.
Of course he has none of the characteristics of an aquatic creature, but his performance in the water has earned him a spot on the senior men’s national squad set to compete at the All Africa Championships, in Algeria, later this year.
For Bowers, one half of a set of twins, it’s been a long time coming.
“I’ve been swimming all my life, I’m a real waterbaby. I’m pretty sure my parents, shortly after birth, chucked me in the water and made me swim a couple of laps,” he jokingly said.
While swimming pools may not have been built for Bowers, the former Wynberg Boys’High School pupil is certainly built for the pool – mentally and physically.
A promising swimmer from a young age, Bowers, along with his twin brother Michael, has been a familiar sight on the junior circuit for many years, collectively setting numerous club and school records, some of which still stand.
The sporty siblings started out with the Wynberg-based Manta Swimming Club, at the age of six before joining Claremont’s Cape Dolphins in their teens and are currently with Swimlab Swimming Club at Wynberg Military base.
Both had a taste of international competition – at the Junior African Championships, in Mauritius, and at the Junior All Africa Games, in Swaziland-when they were 14 and 15 years old.
Retired swimming coach, Roland Wagner, accompanied the boys to Mauritius and worked with them for many years at Manta. Wagner remembers Bowers as a keen learner, one willing to do difficult repeats over and over again.
He said that while some coaches prefer working on mileage and endurance, his focus had always been on technique, rather than lapping up miles.
“We worked heavily on starts and other techniques but Matthew also worked a lot on his own, doing sit-ups and so on to strengthen his stomach muscles. I think that’s part of the secret to his success,” Wagner said.
Bowers’ selection to the national side follows nearly a year spent out of the water, due to a major shoulder operation he had in March 2017.
Months of recuperation saw him competing in only one event last year – the 50m butterfly race, at the Western Cape championships, held at UWC, in December. Winning gold was enough to earn him a call-up to a national training camp in Durban, in June. Last week, Swimming South Africa, informed him of his selection.
Now set to join the big boys of SA swimming, Bowers will have his work cut out if hopes to emulate Chad Le Clos, Cameron van der Berg or Ryk Neethling. But he’s under no illusion. “It takes a lot of motivation, courage to get up every morning and get in the pool at 5am.
“You need to have a drive, you need to have a goal. Without a goal, you’re not going anywhere.
“My goal had always been to get to the Olympics. That has been my goal since I was eight years old when I started competitive swimming. That goal, in the back of my mind, is what got me to get up at 4.30am so I can be in the pool by 5am or 5.30am, even in icy cold waters,” he said.