HEARTFELT tributes have poured in to a man who coached generations of Swindon swimmers – including Olympians Jazz Carlin and Grant Turner - in a career spanning more than 30 years.

Phil Millard, 69, of Liden, died last week after a three-week battle following a stroke. The former Thamesdown Tigersharks coach is remembered by thousands for his passionate and determined approach to sport and to life itself, as well as the huge smile with which he greeted everyone he met.

In a touching tribute on Twitter, Jazz Carlin – who famously won a gold medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and two silver medals for Great Britain in the Rio Olympics of 2016 – said Phil was “her biggest support.”

“I was lucky enough to be coached by Phil for four years. I genuinely wouldn’t be where I am today without him and his support along the way,” she said.

“The one thing Phil always gave me was his time… whether it was telling me one of his entertaining stories or answering the phone to me while he was on a family holiday and I was flipping out with nerves getting ready to swim in an Olympic final.

“[He was] the one person who always believed in me and was my biggest support.”

Determination was something Phil knew all about. Having contracted polio as a six-month-old baby, he spent his early years either in a cast or leg braces. The disease left him with no muscle in his left arm, one foot smaller than the other and his right leg two inches shorter than the left, which caused him to limp. He was bullied as a child, which made him determined not to let the polio defeat him.

In adulthood, he went on to run several marathons – including completing the Swindon Marathon in the 1980s in an impressive 3hr 40mins – as well as playing squash and even cycling from London to Brighton in his 60s, reaching the top of Ditchling Beacon without stopping.

“He always worked out how to do things in spite of his disability,” said wife Carol, 69. “He wasn’t ever going to let it hold him back.”

Born and brought up in Taunton, a stone’s throw from his beloved Somerset County Cricket Club, his working life was spent as a transport manager for BT, but he had a lifelong love of sport, encouraged by his dad.

After moving to Swindon for work, he helped coach the St Joseph’s youth football club in the 1980s and would often take his two daughters – Ali, now 45, and Jo, 43 - to watch Swindon Town. In recent years he was a season ticket holder at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.

His interest in swimming began when he took his young daughters to the Milton Road Baths for lessons with the then Thamesdown Amateur Swimming Club. As they got involved in galas, he progressed from holding the start rope and timekeeping to eventually managing the swim team.

On retiring from BT at the age of 50, he became head coach for Thamesdown Tigersharks, a position he held for the next 10 years.

In a successful batch of swimmers, two youngsters in particular stood out - they were future Olympians Jazz Carlin and the 2012 GB freestyler Grant Turner. But he didn’t single them out, preferring to treat all of his pupils the same.

“The impact he had on Jazz and Grant was the same he had on everyone,” said his daughter, Jo. “He wasn’t any different with anyone. He has had an impact on hundreds of children’s lives.”

After progressing to the GB team, Jazz continued to see Phil as her mentor and would call him before every big swim meet. “She said she needed to hear his calming voice,” said Jo. “He was her mentor long after he was her coach. They had a very close bond.”

On one occasion, after trials for the 2012 Olympics, Phil met with Jazz at the newly-built aquatics centre at Stratford. The trials had not gone well as she had suffered several bouts of tonsillitis and she was considering retiring, but Phil advised her not to make any rash decisions. She went on to win a gold and a silver in the 2014 Commonwealth Games for Wales, and silver medals in the 400m freestyle and the 800m freestyle in the 2016 Rio Olympics for Team GB.

After retiring from Tigersharks, Phil went on to form The Swim Academy at the Marriott Hotel, teaching hundreds of youngsters to swim, along with daughter Jo. He also took on a role as swim coach for the Swindon Triathlon Club.

Outside of sport, he liked gardening and theatre, but his real passion was for his family and he loved holidays with his granddaughters - Dani, 14, Olivia, 11, and Nicole, 10.

‘Passion’ is a word common to many of the tributes which have since been paid. His daughter Ali said: “Whatever he did, he was passionate about it through and through. He never cut corners – he always did things properly and to the best of his ability.

“People remember him for his smile, which lit up his face. He would be very emotional to know he meant so much to so many people.”

Three weeks ago, Phil suffered a stroke and was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. He put up a characteristic fight before a second stroke took his life. His donated organs have since been used to help four other people.

“That was typical of dad – helping others to the very end,” said Jo.

Phil’s funeral will be held at Christ Church in Old Town at 2pm on November 26. Donations can be made to the Brighter Futures Radiotherapy Appeal and Childline by going to funeralzone.co.uk/obituaries/54072