Tayla Lovemore’s greatest ambition is to be a role model for young girls and inspire them to believe that they can also achieve their sporting dreams.

At 25, Lovemore is an 11-time National Junior College Champion, SA and African record breaker in the 50m Fly at World University Games and Division-1 NCAA All-American in the U.S Collegiate circuit.

Her impressive trophy cabinet at an early stage of her career gives hope that the next years of her swimming journey is going to be one for the books.

Currently based in the United States, this year has been a challenging period for Lovemore as her hopes of taking part in the Tokyo Olympics were dimmed due to the global Coronavirus pandemic.

After graduating with her Master’s Degree, her student Visa expired, forcing her to find other means to remain in the country as she prepares to compete again.

Speaking with gsport, Lovemore gives insight into her decision to move to the U.S and shares advice to young women who want to make an impact in swimming.

Tayla, welcome to gsport and thank you for making time to share your story with us? Are you back in training following Covid-19 lockdown.

Yes I am, with some restrictions of course. For example, I have been lifting in my coaching garage the past few months. Not exactly an ideal situation but it’s the best that I could do as I have not had access to a gym as of yet.

We saw a post of yours on Instagram where you spoke about being resilient during the lockdown. What prompted the post?

“I’ll be honest, it has been pretty tough. But one day, I was feeling pretty low in moral and very defeated, like life was against me succeeding. I phoned one of my very good friends and we had a long conversation about it all and she really put it back in perspective for me. I find that I can be very hard on myself a lot of the time.” – Swim sensation, Tayla Lovemore

I had been going through quite a lot this summer from Visa issues, financial issues and then of course not being able to train the way I knew I needed to. I’ll be honest, it has been pretty tough. But one day, I was feeling pretty low in moral and very defeated, like life was against me succeeding. I phoned one of my very good friends and we had a long conversation about it all and she really put it back in perspective for me. I find that I can be very hard on myself a lot of the time. Not because of outside pressures but because I expect the best from myself 100% of the time and that’s something that is not always in your control. It was something really important that I needed to hear that day, to accept the things that I cannot control and work hard on the things I can.

Personally, what are you still hoping to get out of 2020? 

I have been selected to represent the Toronto Titans in the second season of the ISL which will be held in Budapest, Hungary over a 6 week period. This was a very last minute addition as I wasn’t preparing to be selected for any teams this year because of Covid. But somehow, things ended up “falling into place” and now I’ll be racing the best of the best this year. My original goal was to basically “catch up” on the weeks of training that I had missed during the extreme lockdown phases. But then, when I was given this opportunity, I thought that it would be awesome to get some really good and really fast racing in at the same time. So my new goal for this year is to be able to race tired after a tough week of training right before. I want to be at my strongest and fittest again and I believe this is the best way to do it!

Before Covid struck, you have fond memories of the 30th World University Games last year. Tell us about breaking the SA and African records in the 50m Fly?

On the day of the 50m fly, I was feeling quite anxious, my coach wasn’t able to get onto the pool deck yet because they hadn’t issued him is accreditation yet. So, I swam the heats and semis smooth sailing through to the final. I was built for the 50 so I wasn’t too nervous about making the final.

The night of the final, something felt different. I knew I could win it if I put my head down and got all the “little things right” but I was scared I was going to mess up. So, there I am warming up with no coach and all I wanted to do was test out my dive to the 15m mark. I couldn’t find anyone to help me out so I started to panic. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see my coach about 100m up in the grand stands using hand signals, telling me to get on the block. I saw him hold up his stop watch. I did my start and he signalled out my time from up in the stands. He sent me a text about 20 minutes later saying, “You got this. You’ve done the hard part. Now just keep your head down, fast hands and fast breaths and let your body do the rest.”

I guess I am still in shock! Hahah. It was a pretty humbling experience for me. The women that I was racing against those days were and are currently still some of the best in the world and just to say that I was on those podiums was unimaginable. I guess you can say that I felt…Humbled. Humbled and honoured.

You have steadily built up successes in the pool over the years, including being an 11-time National Junior College Champion as well as an Division-1 NCAA All-American in the U.S Collegiate circuit. How do you feel when you reflect on this journey?

It has been a crazy 6 years! From Indian River to Florida State University. All the coaches I have had along the way and the coaches I still have beside me today (Neal Studd and Wayne Riddin). It has been a wild journey with many ups, and just as many downs. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, I came out stronger, more determined and hungry for success on the other side.

Tell us about the decision to go to the United States to pursue your swimming dreams there.

It was actually quite a silly story. I had basically moved in with my coach (Wayne Riddin: my coach in South Africa) and had been training with him for about 8 months before Nationals in 2014. All my predecessors that I looked up to had trained in the U.S and I knew that If I wanted to make it big, that’s where I needed to go because to beat the best, you have to train and race with the best and what better place to do that than the best swimming country in the world.

So, I didn’t even apply for any universities back in South Africa. It was probably about late April, early May and I hadn’t been accepted to any school yet so my parents sat me down and said I should at least start looking at school back at home as well. I said, “No, I am going to the U.S. I only have a plan A. There’s no such thing as a plan B”. Well, true story, a month later, I had committed with a full scholarship to Indian River State College-which was the school that most of my predecessors went to (Brad Tandy, Jared Pike, Gideon Louw) and flew out a month later.

What is your advice to young swimmers who want to make it big?

I want to say to all those young swimmers out there: dream big…scratch that, dream BEYOND big. I fell in love with this sport because I watched the men’s South African team break the world record in 2004 on television and I wanted to be a part of something as special as that. It changed my life and it will change yours.

No doubt, you have Olympics on your mind. How did the postponement impact planning and goals set?

“I have been training in the United States on a student Visa for the past 6 years now. So my plan was to go home for Olympic Trials in April and then come back to the U.S and graduate with my Master’s Degree in May and keep training until they flew me out for the games at the end of July. Well, that didn’t happen and because I had graduated, my student visa expired so I had to figure out a way to stay in the U.S.” – Lovemore on the challenges she has faced this year due to Covid-19.

It definitely impacted my plans leading up to Olympic games. For starters, I have been training in the United States on a student Visa for the past 6 years now. So my plan was to go home for Olympic Trials in April and then come back to the U.S and graduate with my Master’s Degree in May and keep training until they flew me out for the games at the end of July. Well, that didn’t happen and because I had graduated, my student visa expired so I had to figure out a way to stay in the U.S and keep training. I will be honest, this has been one of the most challenging years of my life thus far, but it has shown me how strong I am coming out on the other side.

What has been your greatest career highlight to date?

I think my greatest career highlight would be the 100m butterfly and the 50m butterfly at World University Games. I was nervous because I didn’t feel like I had the best resting period right before so I felt like my performance was “up in the air”. But then, everything just came together at the right time and the right moment and it was magical.

How do you deal with challenges that come your way?

I will be honest, it isn’t always easy when life throws a curveball at you and it hits you right in the forehead. It hurts! But life’s successes isn’t determined by the number of challenges life decides to throw at you, it is determined by the moments you pick yourself back up after every single one of those challenges and keep on moving forward.

You have achieved academically including a B.S. in Environment and Society as well as a Master’s in Aquatic Environmental Science. How did you manage sport and education?

Honestly, I have absolutely no idea how I managed to get through Graduate school and training about 6 hours a day. I was pushing my body to its absolute limits every single day and there were days I would bottom out. But there were days where I was thriving!

Who are your favourite women in sport?

I think one of my favourite woman in sport would have to be Dara Torres. She the first swimmer to represent the United States in five Olympic Games, and at age 41, the oldest swimmer to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team. 41 years old, that is absolutely incredible! All the stereotypes of women and the stereotypes of age just fell away.

Who is an up and coming female swimmer we should keep our eye on?

I would definitely say Aimee Canny is a big name to look out for!

What does South Africa need to do to raise the profile of women’s sport?

It is so crazy to me that in today’s world, women still don’t receive the same recognition for sports as men do, whether it be airtime, sponsorships or just a general fan base. I do believe this can change, slowly over time, through women, staying tough and being the absolute superheroes they are as well as the media giving women the time they deserve to shine!

What is your greatest ambition?

My greatest ambition is to be a role model. I know that may sound a little silly but when I was growing up, I could never really remember ever having one, aside for my dad of course. But I think it’s important to have role models. One day, I want to be able to remind a little girl or a little boy that if you really want something in life and you give everything you have to get it, with patience and a little bit of faith in yourself, it will come to you.