This week, we’d like to introduce you to someone very special from Stornoway, on the Island of Lewis. 23-year old Kara Hanlon is an extremely talented swimmer, and one of Scotland’s most promising sporting talents.
ishga is delighted to be in a position to sponsor Kara, as she sets her sights on the next Commonwealth Games, to be held in Birmingham in 2022. To help you get to know her, we asked her some questions about her journey so far.
Lewis is a lovely place to grow up Kara, but it’s remote, has that had an impact on you as a person?
When I was younger I didn’t really think about what everyone else had, or what we didn’t have. I just loved growing up on the island, it’s so beautiful. We really didn’t need all the opportunities that the mainland has - the island actually has just as many, you’ve just got to look for them in the right places!
That’s such a grounded answer! Has your upbringing helped you in swimming?
Yes, I think so. I missed out on the 2018 Commonwealth Games by 0.04 of a second, which was crushing. I had previously missed the 2014 team by one person too! To miss out twice like that was tough, but it motivated me more than anything. I tried to go back to a feeling of no pressure, just swimming, and letting faster times come. I’m in swimming because I love it, and I really enjoy it. I swim best that way.
How did you start swimming on the island?
I started in the local swimming club and moved to Scottish schools level. All of a sudden, I didn’t have competition any more, so I swam by myself, just to get extra sessions in. I ran cross-country at that time too, and one morning I just didn’t feel like going running, so I went swimming instead. That morning, I met my coach, DR Morrison, who I trained with, on the island, from aged 14-18.
How did you make the leap to becoming successful on the mainland?
When I trained with DR, I had to go to Ness four times a week. It was a 35-minute drive from my home in Stornoway - I still can’t believe that my mum and dad drove me there and gave up so much of their time! We entered competitions on the mainland, and I was often taken by surprise when my times qualified me for competitions that I didn’t even know existed.
It sounds like things naturally fell into place for you, would you say that’s true?
They did in a way I suppose! It was just me and my dad going away to those competitions. It felt strange, because the other kids were there with their clubs and all their friends. I was on my own, and my coach pushed me just because I wanted to swim well. We were really close and worked so well together in those days. We’re still in touch now.
The Island Games is a competition close to your heart, can you tell us more about it?
It’s a multi-sport event for islands that meet certain criteria, such as size of population, and it’s held in different international locations every two years. I go as part of a team from The Western Isles. In 2011 I went to the Isle of Wight at 14, just for experience. In 2013, I went to Bermuda, and in 2015 to Jersey, where I got a gold medal and three silvers. In 2017, I got three golds, and in 2019, four golds and a silver. I like to think I’ve left a wee bit of a legacy for my team.
When you left for Edinburgh University, how did things change?
It was a huge change. I hit a bit of a standstill, but then I started training with a visiting Australian coach called Shannon Rollason, who had coached the Danish swimmer Rikke Møller Pedersen to her 200m Breaststroke world record. The breaststroke is my stroke too – I always say it picked me - and I started achieving new personal bests. Then I moved to my current coach Matthew Trodden, who I’ve been with for over two years now. We work really well together.
So how are you moving towards the 2023 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham?
I’ll be at the British University Championships, where I’ll be competing for Edinburgh University. Then there’s a Scottish short course event, and several meets in locations such as Norway, Luxembourg and Italy. I have the British Championships in April next year. That’s the qualifying meet, where I need to swim well to qualify for championships such as the Commonwealth Games, the European and World Championships and the Olympics.
How do you think ishga’s sponsorship will help your journey?
It’s going to be a massive help. Until now, I’ve been mainly self-funded. The help from ishga will make a huge difference. It’ll help with travel, accommodation, competition costs, new suits, and all sorts of things like that. It’s an amazing thing that they’re going to do for me.
With ishga meaning ‘water’ in Gaelic, it’s a really inspiring match!
I know. It’s just brilliant. They’re such a great company, with great people and great values. I want to represent them too. I want to make them proud of me!
We’re already proud of Kara, and everything she’s achieved thus far. She’s a wonderful ambassador for ishga. Join us in supporting her as she follows her dream to reach the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2023!