From a morbid fear of water to record holding double Olympic swimmer…the life of Ekaterina Avramova has already been very eventful – and she is only just 25!
The Bulgarian who swims under the national flag of Turkey but calls London home and trains and swims with Ealing Swimming Club, proves to be as charming a person as she is impressive a swimming talent.
Her story with all its up, downs and shades of light and dark is ultimately motivating, inspiring and uplifting.
Ekaterina has joined the family of WatchFit Experts and by way on an introduction for all you readers I had a chat with her about her life, achievements and hopes for the future…
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The reason you are now an elite swimmer on the world stage has very unlikely origins doesn’t it?
You could say that! As a child I was genuinely scared of water, like a proper phobia. Baths and showers scared me to death!
When I got to about the age of 7 I decided I really wanted to do some sport – both my parents were very sporty and I think their influence must have rubbed off on me. The problem was every option we considered, for one reason or another, didn’t suit either practically or in terms of my personality. So pretty much everything was getting crossed of the list to the point that we were left with swimming.
With my fear of water still very real this looked like the least logical option to me. But my mother decided it was the very reason I should ‘take the plunge’ and make swimming my primary sport.
History seems to show she was right!
So with your water issues still a concern, were you able to take to it quickly?
I did gradually and once I started progressing things started to gather some momentum. As a junior I began to make a name for myself and set records and, on the surface, all looked very good indeed. But behind the scenes I was becoming increasingly miserable.
My coach was a big believer in the ‘tough love’ approach. He was super strict and often very belittling. Nothing was ever good enough and and he’d even call me overweight and humiliate me.
No girl wants to be subjected to such things but when you are training hard, doing your best and trying to make people happy and a bit scared of your coach, then you tend to put your head down and keep going as best you can.
So what happened?
Another example of ‘Mother is always right!’
I thought I’d kept my misery to myself but of course Mums can detect these things. One day I came home and, without any warning, Mum said, “Right, we’re off to live in London”.
This quite a shock. Neither of us knew the UK let alone London, we didn’t speak English and we had our life in Bulgaria. But Mum had sold her business and we packed up and left!
What an adventure!
You could say that! We didn’t know where to go when we got to London, like I said neither of us spoke English and what’s more I didn’t have a swimming club to go to or any contacts. My mother just starting sending emails to clubs everywhere all over London.
Several who got in touch mentioned Ealing as being potentially ideal for me, so along I went.
Were they welcoming to this newcomer?
Yes absolutely, but you have to remember I was a 17 year old girl who didn’t know the language at all, who’d been the swimming ‘star’ of her country but was now a bit of a fish out of water if you excuse the pun.
They agreed to give me a go and see what I was made of and I was very grateful of the opportunity, but it was also a huge reality check. It was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that I might have been No.1 in my country but I was only No.4 at that club!
“How does that make you feel?” asked my coach. “We will find out”, I replied.
So I worked hard, made fast and significant improvements and bit by bit climbed the club, region and national rankings.
So you must have been happy with your new life here in South East England
Well not exactly. The swimming performances were improving and I was really appreciative of the opportunity at Ealing Swimming Club, but I was still a teenager in ‘strange land’, trying to come to terms with the language whilst getting up at ridiculously early hours of the morning, travelling 90 minutes in the dark, busting a gut in the pool and then travelling back again before repeating the process the next day.
I was starting to complain and moan at home more and more. Then one weekend I had a great swimming meet – the club did really well, we won the relays, which I was part of and suddenly the possibilities seemed so much greater and more attainable.
I returned home in triumph only to be met by my Mother who said, “Right then, you’re going back”.
“Bulgaria of course. You’ve been saying you want to go, so you will”.
“No, no, I’ve changed my mind, I want to stay!”
So who knows what would have happened if that particular event hadn’t gone so well! I’d probably be back in Bulgaria now, without having learnt English and quite possibly not having reached the standard I have now and been to two Olympic Games.
I guess your coach got the answer he was looking for?
Absolutely. I said we would see, and we both found out that I could rise to that challenge rather than be put off by it.
In Part 2 Katy offers up fascinating and candid memories of the Olympic Games, how she had to call police during an interview and became a national news story that even caught the eye of the President!
Connect here with WatchFit Expert Guy Holland