Photo sparks memories of swimming gala

A PHOTOGRAPH of the first major swimming gala at Halesworth pool in 1973 sparked memories for a 70-year-old champion swimmer when it was featured in the EADT's The Way We Were section recently.

A PHOTOGRAPH of the first major swimming gala at Halesworth pool in 1973 sparked memories for a 70-year-old champion swimmer when it was featured in the EADT's The Way We Were section recently.

Neil Howell, of Highfield Road, Halesworth, managed to recognise many of the spectators pictured but could not remember that it was taken at the pool's first major gala for the East Suffolk Schools Swimming Association on June 22.

A former PE teacher at Halesworth Modern and Bungay High schools, Neil founded the Halesworth Dolphins Swimming Club in 1973, a year after the open-air pool at Dairy Hill was opened by Olympic gold medallist Judy

Grinham.


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He said: "I met Judy while I was swimming in London and managed to persuade her to come up and open the pool. It was quite an honour to have a schools gala at Halesworth so soon after the pool had been opened. Until then, Halesworth had no swimming pool and swimmers had to go to Beccles once a week to train and had no real chance of competitive swimming."

Over 120 swimmers from local schools took part in the June gala and the fastest finishers went through to the county schools gala, which was held in Bury St Edmunds that year.

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Another gala was held in July and over 150 distance-swimming certificates were awarded which Neil said was a huge increase in the amount usually given before the Halesworth pool opened.

However, the first gala the pool hosted was at its official opening in June 1972, where Neil came first in the mens 50m breaststroke in front of Olympic champion Judy, whom he has recently lost touch with.

A keen swimmer and gala organiser, Neil entered a Masters gala race for his age group in Stowmarket five years ago and was astounded to find out he had qualified for the Masters World Championships in Munich.

He came 21st and 27th for the 100m and 50m breaststroke respectively before qualifying for last year's competition in New Zealand and finished ninth in the 100m and tenth in the 200m breaststroke.

His wife, Julia, 33, also swam in the three kilometre open water event in the South Pacific and finished 21st and their daughter Alice, five, is a member of the Halesworth Ducklings Swimming Club which was formed by Rita and Tracey Hales two months ago for the over-fives.

The club emphasises enjoyment and fun in the water but has also awarded over 200 personal survival and distance swimming certificates to the children since it began in May.

Neil now swims for Diss Otters and swims at Halesworth everyday during the summer and pools at Leiston and Bungay during the winter, but always prefers training at Dairy Hill.

He said: "Every year I wonder if the Halesworth pool will continue for another year but I think this year has been its best ever."

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