SWIMMING Gunnedah has appointed well-known local identity John Hickey as head coach, as construction of the new outdoor pool forges ahead and the summer season shows promise of a bright future for the club.
Hickey brings a wealth of experience to the pool deck after years of coaching triathletes in Gunnedah and a further two years experience as sport and recreation co-ordinator at Ngukurr in the Northern Territory from 2014 to 2016.
That position included full-time sports coaching in swimming (twice daily), cycling, running, athletics, boxing, weight training, basketball, AFL, cricket, volleyball, triathlon, junior development and senior fitness.
At the recent annual general meeting of Swimming Gunnedah, Hickey outlined his plans for the season and beyond, and thanked the club for giving him the chance to realise a long-held dream.
“It is a privilege to be coaching the Gunnedah swimming club,” he said.
“The club has a fantastic history and I want the swimmers to have an enjoyable learning experience and make great memories.”
Hickey is highly qualified for the position with his bronze level in swimming, level one in strength and conditioning and level two in triathlon and athletics. He is also a qualified boxing coach (Northern Territory Boxing).
To shore up his coaching certificates, Hickey has qualified as a lifeguard and has current CPR and first-aid certificates.
As a youngster growing up in Gunnedah, Hickey admired many of the football greats who came out of the town, and he dreamed of playing rugby league at the highest level.
“I began coaching basketball as a 16-year-old and junior rugby league when I was 18,” he said.
“In 1982 … I began the first weight classes for women in Gunnedah and this eventually led to high-intensity, interval-style training three times a day for males and females, which led to running in the City to Surf Fun Run, which then had only about 30,000 competitors.”
The next challenge for the committed athlete that year was the then new sport of triathlon, with his first competitive experience at the inaugural Nepean triathlon. With the encouragement of former local jeweller Charles Priest, Hickey began the first Gunnedah triathlon on Australia Day in 1983.
As interest grew, Hickey began coaching others in the sport, along with coaching rugby league and touch football.
“I did my first learn-to-swim courses at this time and did some training with the local swimming club,” he said.
“Over the years I learnt coaching by observing different people, including Eric Arnold and Mac Mercer. I studied the methods of every rugby league coach and their trainers, among them the highly successful combination of Terry Donnelly and Ross Moule and John Lennan and Ross Moule.
“I admired gymnastics coach Kevin Maunder and talked to him about coaching and parents.
“I asked the great Dennis Cotterell about swimming and he allowed me to be on the pool deck with him when I went on holidays to the Gold Coast. This is where I learnt the swimming strokes.
“Each year I went on holidays I would go back and see the improvement in a young Grant Hackett and watch how intensely he trained.”
With triathlon running through his blood, Hickey’s passion and experience saw him coach triathlon with TriNSW early last decade and become its assistant coach in 2007.
“I also began working as a national development coach with Tri Australia in 2007,” he said.
“By this time, the squad I coached in Gunnedah had some of Australia’s best junior triathletes. At one stage Gunnedah triathletes made up one third of the NSW team of 36 triathletes.”
Over the years, Hickey coached Australian champions in athletics, cycling and triathlon as well as three age-group world triathlon champions, blending coaching with his position as a real estate agent from 1988 to 2012, when he coached athletics and triathlon six mornings and four nights a week.
After moving out of the agency, he became a bottle shop proprietor for two years, while still coaching the same hours, and by then realising that he wanted to coach full time.
In 2016 he and his wife Donna left for Ngukurr in the Northern Territory, where he could work as many hours as he liked and quickly built the best Aboriginal junior swim-triathlon program in the territory.
“This was a great privilege and the highlight was a peaceful community where there was no longer fighting in the streets every afternoon,” he said.
“Fitness was recognised and being an athlete was encouraged by the community elders who saw the value of busy children.”
The subsequent marriage of the couple’s daughter Sarah and the birth of their granddaughter, Reggie, changed the family’s life and they decided to be return to Gunnedah.
“Needless to say we are not planning to leave Gunnedah again any time soon,” he said.