Sophie Casson joined Carnforth Otters back in the early 1990s where she became one of the country’s best distance swimmers in her 20s.
She went on to break numerous world records in masters swimming as a key and valued member of the club’s performance squad.
In this interview Sophie, looks back to her early days with the club, at the hard work, the trophies and discusses her plans for the future.
What do you remember about your first swim sessions with Carnforth Otters?
I was six or seven-years-old and swam with coaches at the time, Elaine Howard and Mike Thoms, at Carnforth swimming pool.
I had lots of energy and didn’t like ballet. They were really good coaches and the sessions were great fun.
In my first competition at Age Groups in Fleetwood I got a black badge for coming third in the 50m backstroke.
When did you start to think – ‘I am quite good at swimming and might be able to make it to the top level’?
I was around 14 when I started to think – ‘I am not bad at this’. I was competing at counties and getting a few medals. I was enjoying the training and finding it a great release for all the energy I had.
I have always enjoyed training even more than racing but I am very competitive when I get on the blocks.
So how did you transition from National Level to British Team and beyond?
What I learned as I moved through the club is that having a goal and a target has been a crucial driver for me.
This helped me to achieve my first win at nationals in the 200m backstroke at age 18 that opened up the possibility of a scholarship to study at Stirling University.
I didn’t get on too well at Stirling and decided to change to Loughborough after 12 months despite not having financial support.
I stayed at Loughborough for a further five years studying sports science.
In the second year I was ranked third in the country at backstroke but was struggling to get into the top two that would have opened a place in the Olympic team.
The key transition was when I was around 22. My coach at Loughborough suggested trying distance freestyle and within six months I was third best in the country at 800m and from there I got a place in the Open Water British Team.
What do you remember as your best swim?
That was in South Africa in the Midmar Mile event where I came in the top five but didn’t get an Olympic place as Keri-anne Payne was swimming really well and had won the world championship.
You returned to Lancaster in 2011 and have been Swimming with Carnforth Otters since then – what has kept you going?
Actually in 2011 when I returned I swam by myself for six months and then discovered that I needed to be pushed and returned to swim at the club. It was not long before I was swimming really well again.
After all the experience, I have had at Stirling, Loughborough and overseas, what never ceases to amaze me is what a fantastic club Carnforth Otters is.
Since returning, I have seen year-upon-year swimmers achieve nationals qualifying times with a minimal number of hours in the water. I am still swimming close to my best times with less than seven or eight hours training per week that involves maybe 30km.
I was doing over 80km at university, in some weeks 100km. This shows the quality of what Mark and his team of coaches is delivering.
This program has supported me to take my first world record in 2014. Swimming in the 25-29 age group I swam 4:15.54 in the 400m freestyle.
This year I went even faster, breaking the 30-34 age group world record with a 4.14.56. Also this year I also broke the 200m freestyle world record with a 2:02.03 and the 1,500m world record with a time of 17:20.02. It’s been a good year.
So to the future – What are your plans?
This year has been tough, I ache everywhere and need a less intense year next year.
I certainly want to do more age group swimming and would like to try and get to the nationals in 2018.
I am also really enjoying racing in the Arena and North Lancs Leagues.
I am still keen to go for more masters records.