When Alcuin Upper School math teacher Ed Downes turned on his TV to watch this summer’s Olympic games in Tokyo, his eyes were squarely focused on the swimming heats.
Downes, who swam competitively for Great Britain during his high school and collegiate years, is well aware of how hard it is to qualify for the Olympics, much less reach the medal podium.
A native of Tring, England, Downes first began swimming at age five. At the time, he was swimming in the equivalent to recreational leagues. When he was nine, it was clear to his coaches and parents that Downes needed a higher level of competition.
“There’s kind of a tipping point when you go from a smaller club to a big club,” said Downes, who now serves as the head coach of Alcuin’s swim team. “It’s a conversation with parents about going from 4-5 practices a week to about 8-9 practices a week. It’s a family commitment.”
By the time he reached college, Downes was competing at Loughborough University, the UK’s top swimming school known for regularly sending its swimmers to the Olympics. It was here that Downes became training partners with 2012 Olympian Joe Roebuck, and roommates with another 2012 Olympian Daniel Fogg. In his final year of collegiate eligibility, Downes crossed the Atlantic and joined the swim team at Southern Methodist University. Downes characterized his time at SMU as “the most fun I ever had swimming. The college setup was just light-years ahead of the UK.”
Despite medaling in multiple events for over a decade on the national and international stage, Downes fell short of his goal of swimming for Great Britain at the Olympics, but his admiration for those who make it that far hasn’t waned.
“Swimming is one of the most time-intensive sports to practice for,” Downes said. “It is a labor-intensive battle. I just have the utmost respect for every single person there. These people are in the top percent in their sport.”