South Africa is really blessed with some of the finest Young Athletes. Today we zoom in and have a chat to Rachel Stevenson, a brilliant SWIMMER. Words that enter my mind about Rachel are: dedicated, committed, a stalwart, determined, hard worker, leader, academic – I can go on. This young champion of 17 years old has just gone from strength to strength under the brilliant coaching and leadership of Coach Gerhard Zandberg, Top SA Swimmer, Olympian and owner of Gerhard Zandberg Sport Academy. Rachel Stevenson has medalled and taken centre stage at SA’s top swimming events over the past few years, and has rubbed shoulders with our top Senior Swimmers at a very young age. Rachel also qualified at the young age of 15 to swim at SA Senior Nationals.
She is an all or nothing type of girl who works relentlessly at her academics, swimming and leadership duties, being elected Head Girl 2015 at Heron Bridge College. Now how is this for the pinnacle of determination: swimming with a broken wrist, working the legs and kicks with a water proof cast on the wrist! Rachel’s heart is to help people and make a difference in the world by becoming a medical doctor and also to be one of the world’s top swimmers. But for now she has just put her faith in the Lord to lead her in her journey and decisions ahead.
You are passionate and doing so well in your swimming, tell me a little bit about how you started in swimming and your journey in the swimming arena up to now?
I am seventeen years old. My swimming coach is Gerhard Zandberg, and my club is Gerhard Zandberg Sport Academy. I go to Heron Bridge College, and I have been privileged enough to be Head Girl over the course of 2015. I am very determined and I believe that it is important to do everything with 100% effort, or else not do it at all.
I started racing competitively at the age of 12, when I qualified for Gauteng schools. I realised that I enjoyed competing, and I started taking part in Central Gauteng Aquatic galas, where I surprised myself and went from one Level 2 Champs , straight into Level 3. I was surrounded by senior swimmers who motivated me, and at my first level 3 nationals I medalled in 50m freestyle. At the age of 15, I qualified for senior nationals in 100m Freestyle and 50m Freestyle. This was definitely a growing experience. At 16 I had a hiccup in my journey as I broke my wrist playing netball and kicked in the pool for 4 months with a waterproof cast. This last year, I changed coaches and rediscovered my passion for the sport. I now swim for Northern Tigers and am thoroughly enjoying it.
What is the highest accolade you have received in swimming, and what is your greatest personal accomplishment?
At Level 3 Nationals 2015 in Port Elizabeth, I achieved gold for 50m freestyle for 17-18 years and silver for 100m Freestyle. At Senior Nationals this year in Durban, I came 3rd for 50m freestyle 19&under. It was exciting as I competed in my first final for 100m freestyle and achieved PBs. It was incredible racing against the best swimmers in South Africa, the likes of Trudi Maree, Karin Prinsloo, Erin Gallagher, Marlies Ross.
Do you have any specific regimens or rituals in swimming? Maybe a particular diet / training method that can be partially attributed to your success?
In the last year, my training regime changed. My coach and I focus more on strength and race experience, rather than too much mileage. We work off targets rather than distance. I enjoy cross training, such as boxing and running as well. I am a fussy eater, so before competitions I challenge myself to eat more of the energy foods such as broccoli that are not always the tastiest, but are required in order to swim fast.
How do you manage to fit in both sports and academics into your schedule, especially this being your Matric year?
To be honest, if I did not swim, I would not manage my matric year. Swimming acts as my stress release and after a good training session, I feel awake and ready to conquer my masses of homework. My academics are very important to me, so I have had to sacrifice some time in the pool, unfortunately. At school, I have had the honour of being Head Girl this year, so therefore my swimming has become even more important to me, because it keeps me level-headed.
Besides your swimming, what do you have a passion for?
I have a passion for leading and helping people who cannot help themselves. I discovered these passions in the last six months through my leadership role at school and through my experiences in hospitals, as I want to become a medical doctor someday.
Tell me one thing about Rachel Stevenson that the world does not know?
I love meeting new people. I feel that each person has something new to teach me.
What do you do to relax?
I read a fictional book or dance.
Which athlete/ athletes inspire you?
My swimming coach, Gerhard Zandberg. His perseverance to continue after a major setback inspired me to keep on going after my setback. He also knows me well,knows how to motivate me and he gives me perspective when the going gets tough.
What is your personal favourite motivational quote?
“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.” – Michael Phelps
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Just take one step at a time.
What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage this challenge?
Trying to figure out what my plans are for the near future. I have a goal to become a doctor, but I am not finished swimming yet. I am managing this stress, by taking one step at a time. Applying for my degrees is the only thing I can do it wait and see what the Lord has planned for me.
When you’ve had a tough / bad day, what lifts you up again?
This is going to sound clichéd, but after a hard training session, I am ready to go again. Being around positive people uplifts my spirits as well.
I’m sure you have many things going on right now, what’s to be expected next from Rachel Stevenson?
Next year my goal is to be studying at TUKS, either a BSc or Medicine. I want to continue competing, and make an international team.
Anything else you would like to share?
I feel like we should not limit ourselves to the expectations of others. It is important to live your life how you want to.
Thank you so much Rachel for taking this interview. We would like to wish you all the best for your sports and academic journey ahead. We look forward to following you as you go from strength to strength. Blessings!