IN 13 years of swimming and what will soon be four Paralympics, Jeremy McClure has never laid eyes on any of his opponents.
But the 29-year-old has a world record firmly in his sights as he prepares to travel to Rio next month.
The Olmypic Creed states that the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle – the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
By that definition, Bull Creek resident McClure forged his status as an Olympian in the year leading up to his official debut at Athens 2004.
Diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy just days after his 15th birthday, McClure lost nearly all his vision and became legally blind over the course of just 10 weeks.
Forced to give up hockey and water polo, McClure spent a year in a difficult place before returning to the pool to escape the darkness.
“I needed to get my mind off the negativity of losing most of my sight,” he said.
“I’ve always been healthily competitive and I had heard of the Paralympics which were happening a year later and so I decided to give swimming a crack.”
McClure, then 16 and still in high school, sought out swim coach Peter Jamieson and in mid-2003 began training for the Paralympics taking place in September the following year.
A member of the South Shore Swimming Club, he has been a regular at LeisureFit Booragoon ever since.
“(Peter) said to me you can’t just swim once a week, you have to swim three times a week – and within two months you have to go up to seven times a week,” McClure said.
“That was a massive shock but I thought ‘Okay whatever, it’ll be alright it won’t be too hard.’ But it was – it was bloody hard.”
McClure persevered and, after settling on 100m backstroke as his main event, qualified for the Australian team heading to Athens, where he finished sixth.
He has been to both Paralympics since, finishing seventh in Beijing 2008 and eighth in London 2012.
Reclassified as an S11 swimmer last year due to worsening vision, McClure is now preparing to head to Rio where a podium finish – and a potential world record – are his goals.
“Dropping down to S11 means I have to race with blacked out goggles because I’m also competing against guys that are totally blind,” he said.
“That does slow me down a bit but if I can get back to my best ever time that would be a world record.”
That record currently stands at 1:07.74, with McClure’s best ever 1:05.60 in the run up to the London Games four years ago.
“At the Paralympic trials I did a 1:10.20 which has me ranked third in my classification at the moment,” he said.
“I’m definitely confident I can drop that time but breaking the record all depends how much I can drop it by.
“The ultimate goal is to win gold and break the record but I’d love to just get any medal at this point really.”
McClure works as a remedial massage therapist and has created a crowdfunding page to help cover the cost of his training and lost income in the run up to the Paralympics. Readers can donate at www.mycause.com.au/page/130623.
He swims in the 100m backstroke on September 9 and will also compete in the 50m freestyle on September 12 and 100m freestyle on September 15. Heats and finals take place on the same day.