AS she sets her sights on Rio 2016, Tilly Gray has decided she needs to get out a bit more.
The England swimmer, a former student at Commonweal School, is currently taking a fortnight’s break from the sport after competing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but she’ll soon be back in the pool as she kick-starts her Olympic cycle.
One of her strategies for keeping ahead of the game in the coming months is travelling around the continent, testing herself against new opponents and experiencing different racing atmospheres.
She told the Advertiser: “I’ve looked at the competitors I race and a lot of them have been going abroad a lot this year. We do a lot of competitions in GB and we’re used to the same competitors all the time, just in a different pool and different environment and I think it’s really important you challenge yourself with top end swimmers, world class swimmers – to throw you in the deep end.
“Then, when I go to major competitions, like the Commonwealths and Worlds, it’s not going to be so different and I’m not going to be frozen. I’m going to gain so much more from that.”
Gray’s European adventure begins in Italy in November, where she’ll be racing in a short course meeting, before she heads to Marseille in January for an event in which she medalled and pulled off a season’s best last time around.
Then, in a little under a year from now, she’ll be joining the Mare Nostrum Tour - a series of meets around the Mediterranean - turning out for an as-yet unconfirmed French club.
The tour involves swims in Monaco, Calais and Barcelona - a perk of the job.
“It’s just going to be really great to go on these tours, get out of the country and get a better feel,” said Gray. “I’ve been to just about every pool in this country at a certain level and after a while you want to challenge yourself and make it a bit more exciting. I wouldn’t mind a bit of sun, so why not kill two birds with one stone?”
Gray has been able to plan her Euro-trip thanks to recent sponsorship from local furniture company Neptune, whose contributions have taken a financial weight of her mind following recent UK Sport funding cuts.
“I’ve recently secured a new sponsorship with a local company called Neptune. They’re supporting me for the next couple of years and it’s going to make a massive difference to my swimming career,” she said.
“It’s such a cut-throat sport, we’ve had a massive funding cut from UK Sport so we now have to go out and find our own means of funding. It’s just going to allow me to do European competitions, go abroad and get the experience I want to achieve in swimming and help me live a little more comfortably.
“It would take the financial stress off my mind so I can solely focus on my swimming commitments, training and putting in the best performance. It’s going to help me so much this season to put the blinkers on and get me to my end goal.”
Any local businesses or individuals interested in sponsoring Gray should contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.