Ex-Olympian imparts his knowledgeSave
By Anendra Singh
He squats on the fringes of a competitive swimming pool nowadays but that doesn't mean Daniel Bell always fights the urge to plunge into the pool of contention every now and then as a coach in Hawke's Bay.
"It's great to be home. It's a different outlook because I'm not the one in the pool. I'm on the side of the pool giving instructions so I'm really enjoying being on the other side of the dais," says Bell who is at the helm of the resurrected Trojans Swim Club in Clive.
The 26-year-old former Olympian from Hastings retired as a swimmer in January 2015 after returning home to settle from New Plymouth where he had lived since returning from the 2012 London Olympics.
Bell began his career under now retired John Beaumont, a founder member who plied his trade from the old Hylton Brown Pool in Havelock North.
He admits he can't totally take swimming out of his system, revealing he often jumps in with the youngsters to make relay team numbers during training.
"I like to tell them, until I'm no longer the fastest in the club I'll keep putting my hand up. The day comes when I can make someone faster than me is the day I'll 100 per cent stand down but I'm definitely enjoying it now," says the man who studied at Hastings Boys' High School before completing sixth and seventh form at Massey High School in Auckland).
When Beaumont had retired, the former Te Mata School/Havelock North Intermediate pupil had switched to former Olympian Jon Winter's tuition at the Sundevils Heretaunga Club at Flaxmere.
The teenager's talent was undeniable, claiming myriad Hawke's Bay/Poverty Bay (HBPB) medals across several disciplines.
Winter coached him to his first New Zealand age-group titles at 14 in the 50m/100m backstroke events but Bell also was partial to the seductive strokes of butterfly.
He was selected to represent his country as the first-leg backstroke medley relay swimmer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the London Olympics Bell competed in the 100m backstroke/butterfly races.
Bell considers himself fortunate to have had a stable of good coaches in Beaumont, Winter, Donna Bouzaid, of New Plymouth, and University of California's David Durden.
The three-time Junior World Championship gold medallist , who went on to clinch silver in backstroke over 100m at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, likes to think he brings a smorgasbord of offerings from the four to share with his proteges in his fledgling coaching career.
"I like to pride myself in incorporating a little bit of every coach I've had in my career in everything I do," he says after assuming the mantle of Trojans coach from April 1 last year.
It hasn't escaped the attention of the back-stroking bronze medallist at the World Short Course Championship in the medley relay in 2008 that, not just here but throughout the country, how devoid centres are of skills pertaining to underwater drills.
His interaction in the pool to hone those skills has prompted youngsters and parents to commend him for taking the swimmers to an "amazing" level.
He finds comfort in the knowledge that even when he's a little bit out of shape and not the athlete he once was he's still able to demonstrate actively in the water what they can potentially become.
His impact as coach speaks for itself. He started with six swimmers and today has close to 50.
Now that HBPB has embraced Trojans as an affiliate member, the future looks brighter.
"We haven't had much promotion locally. A lot of it has been through word of mouth so people have come because they have heard good things," he says, revealing work with Waimarama Surf Lifesaving Club has bolstered numbers from the bottom end.
Bell prefers to channel his energy into coaching while leaving the administrative challenges for a diligent Trojans committee to tackle.
Five Trojans members, pre-registration, competed under the Raumati Swim Club banner in Wellington, returning with 17 medals and PBs from the New Zealand Junior Swimming Festival in Kilbirnie in February.
"I've been lucky that in the last six months the final processes of registering the club is something I haven't had much to do with because my job is coaching and just worrying about swimmers."
Bell always had a vested interest in reviving the club and received Beaumont's blessings.
"When I heard in 2009 that it went under I was quite upset so when I got asked to get on deck to coach fulltime my goal always was to resurrect Trojans, not create my own brand but bring back a brand that was successful and has a great record in Hawke's Bay and New Zealand."
He believes the contemporary order has modernised the club logo in injecting blue-and-gold colours.
Having a dossier that says he's an Olympian is a great honour because he feels, regardless of what code, having such credentials will create interest from entry level to the high-end platform.
"That's because you do understand that pressure of competing at that level compared to some other level."
Bell is striving to find a balance between hard work and enjoyment for his young charges.
"I tell kids that when it's a hard set they have to put their heads down and knuckle down and do it," he says.
During the odd session they have a licence to engage in some frivolity to escape the pressures of performing.
As a club in a smaller region, where members eventually migrate to bigger centres, it's imperative Bell helps them achieve results to pave a path to the higher echelons of swimming.
"One of my goals is to have as many of my juniors competing as long as they can into their late teens."
Bell relishes the junior entry level challenge as someone who has had minimal involvement with conducting the odd clinic in his career.
"A huge part of our success has come across the board and not as a junior focus, age-group focus or open focus."
That is reflected in some of his age-group swimmers joining without PBs for up to two years but whittling that time in a short span under his tutelage.
Every athlete harbours a modicum of regret when they retire and Bell is no exception.
His partner, Samantha Tucker, of Austin, Texas, often reminds him to start training for 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"I have coaches constantly telling me I'm too good to throw it away because I'm still young enough so, I guess, there's always going to be regrets but a huge part of any athlete's life is to know when enough is enough."
He harbours regrets of a career riddled with injuries which derailed his London Olympics campaign to some extent.
Bell considers the London Olympics a turning point. He had worked his backside off to be in probably the best shape of his career only to find a bunged right shoulder a fortnight before the meeting had put paid to any ambitions.
"It set me back a bit so I've had to get a fulltime job to survive, obviously, not having an income or anything like that."
The inevitability of retirement kicked in when a few weeks into training the injury flared up again.
It is dormant for now because he can manage a few lengths of the pool, but pushing to a 75km-a-week training regime will be the litmus test.
Triathlons have captured Bell's imagination so he's keen to give it a crack. He's been clocking some serious mileage on the tarseal and it's something he did in the leadup to the London Olympics when he was advised to take some time off the pool.
He is awaiting surgery to remove a titanium rod from his left leg, a reminder of when he broke it two years ago.
"As far as becoming a fulltime professional swimmer again, it isn't something I want to pursue long term because my focus is my athletes now so that's a huge part of becoming a coach," he says.
For someone who loves swimming, he has given back with clinics, served as guest speaker at prizegiving ceremonies and visited countless schools.
"At functions where I have handed out medals I would give my medals to a little kid to hold to help them as inspiration in moving forward to try to, I guess, get to the level I have got to in the sport."
Bell was only 8 when he yearned to become an Olympian.
"Obviously it was very unrealistic at that age but it was a goal I had set for myself so leaving home at 15 or 16 to put that focus on the Olympics was again an early focus but it ended up paying off."
Mum Sheree Rae and father Murray Bell were an integral part of that success, getting out of bed at 4.30am to shuttle him to the pools.
"No athlete can do it without their parents' support. I was lucky my mum was trusting enough so I could leave home as a young teenager to pursue my dreams in the Olympics."
A "natural", Bell also played representative rugby, first XI cricket and drove go-karts but counts his blessings to be able to balance that with his books.
"I'm still a huge believer of doing multiple sports as a young athlete because you never know what sport you'll end up specialising in and in swimming what stroke you're going to end up specialising in."
He engaged in all four strokes - freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke - which made him a medley candidate while playing rugby until he was 16.
"I think having that healthy balance up until I was fully committed to swimming, and only swimming, helped me but I have to say the defining factor was my shift was to go to Auckland to train under Donna Bouzaid," he says, labelling her the best coach in his career because he had bought into her "systems".
Having other high school to university-age prospects training in the lanes alongside him to push him in Auckland was priceless.