Ajulu-Bushell juggles Olympic dreams with A-levels
British swimmer Achieng Ajulu-Bushell has reached a critical point in her life. Will she commit to the gruelling schedule of an Olympic swimmer or will she focus her attention on getting top marks at A-level?
It is five o'clock in the morning and in a scene that would not look out of place in a zombie film, bleary-eyed youngsters, with fixed stares and many still clad in their night clothes, stagger into a leisure centre in west London.
Among them is the 17-year-old Olympic hopeful Achieng Ajulu-Bushell.
For her this is all part of the daily routine that takes in A-level studies, driving lessons, socialising, and another training session in the evening.
It is a pressured schedule for anyone, not least for someone at an important stage of their education.
And it is a pressure that, in part, led Achieng to take five weeks out recently - a break from the pool and a chance to reassess.
"I think the most difficult part about getting yourself to training is the motivation," she says.
ACHEING AJULU-BUSHELL - THE FACTS
Born: Warrington, Great Britain
Year of birth: 1994
Career highlights: Winner, 100m and 200m breaststroke, 2010 British Championships
Recent performance: Fifth in the 50m breaststroke and eighth in the 100m breaststroke at the 2010 Commonwealth Games
"When I tell people my hours they are like 'that's horrific'.
"Getting up at five o'clock in the morning doesn't really get any easier, you get used to it, but the motivation to get yourself out of bed when it's dark or raining - that is always a struggle."
Achieng was born in Warrington but at the age of three she moved to the land of her father - Kenya - where she rose to prominence in the pool.
In 2007 and aged just thirteen she made the decision to leave Kenya and pursue her dream of being a world class swimmer by returning to the UK. She moved to the south west where she boarded at Plymouth College and befriended diver Tom Daley.
Last year she switched sporting allegiance from Kenya to Britain and made an impressive start at the British Championships before representing England at last year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
But 2011 has not gone according to plan.
She has missed out on qualification for the World Championships taking place in China this month because she was ill for the first qualifying event and didn't take part in the second because of exams.
The competing demands of education and swimming are a constant juggling exercise.
"At the end of the day my education is so important to me," she said.
"There are times when I get really stressed and really fed up with it all and I think if I didn't swim I would get four As.
"But you can't say 'what if'. You have just got to deal with the situation you are given and I want to do both of these things at the moment and so that's where I am.
"It's a predicament that I'm working through."
Achieng has a bright, confident and level-headed manner that belies her years.
She has taken the media interest in her stride but she seems most comfortable relaxing among friends at school.
I think in terms of swimming once you've lost that motivation and determination you're never going to get to a point that's as good as your potential
With university ambitions and a keen interest in politics, she remains philosophical about her competing demands ahead of what will be a crucial year in and out of the swimming pool.
"I believe swimming can't support you your whole life and I want something to fall back on," she says.
"I'm very interested in learning outside the swimming pool.
"At the moment there's a lot of 'is it worth it?', and 'will it pay off?' In terms of academic studies, next year is A-levels.
"I've always been quite realistic about my abilities and what I can achieve and when I was growing up say 13 or 14 I was like, 'I'm going to go to the Olympics'.
"As it's come close it's become more of a realisation that it could happen. And so now I don't know, I'm a little bit unsure of where I can get to and what I can do."
Achieng has been living with her godparents in London. Soon her family based in Kenya intend to rejoin her to support her more closely ahead of London 2012.
Her coach says Achieng has the talent to reach the top of her sport but she will also need the resolve and determination to grab that chance.
"I think in terms of swimming once you've lost that motivation and determination you're never going to get to a point that's as good as your potential," Achieng adds.
"I think if I get to 2012 and I decide this is definitely what I want to do and I still have my love for the sport then obviously I'll carry on to 2016 and as far as I can go.
"But if next year comes around and I don't make the team and that disappointment makes me love my love for the sport then obviously I wouldn't continue.
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