“I started out low, very behind and had a lot of catching up to do. Everyone was ahead of me. I kept on training hard and never gave up hope. I thank my coaches for giving their effort and getting me where I am right now. If it wasn’t for Alexander Mwaipasi, I don’t know where I would be right now ,” said Hilal Hemed Jr. Hilal started swimming at age seven. He quit swimming when the school cut the sport from its offerings. He returned to swimming when he turned 15 years old.
“I started swimming at interschool meets and that’s when the national team coach saw me and came to speak to me. He told me I had something great in me, good for me in the future, you need to start training with us. That’s when I joined my swim club Talis, the Tanzania Lifesaving Society.”
Hilal lived and trained in Tanzania. In 2015, he went to Dubai to train at Hamilton Aquatics, a famous swim club in the Middle East. Two months later, he went to compete at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in Kazan. He returned to Dubai to train full-time in order to prepare for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Although Tanzanian media lauded him as one the country’s most exciting swimmers, swimming is difficult for Hilal from a financial standpoint. “My family isn’t financially stable and most sponsors are only interested in football. It was a miracle for me to get the Dubai opportunity.”
Training at Thanyapura is unlike any other experience in the past. In Tanzania, he was limited to training one hour per day and only swim two kilometres. In Dubai, he focused on short distance 50-metre sprints. His current training programme at Thanyapura introduced him to long distance swimming. He said, “I’m suffering right now. I’m suffering even more, but it’s good in the long run. I love the food here. Everyone’s friendly. The facilities are great and they have machines I’ve never used.”
The coaches at Thanyapura push him exceed his limits. “The coaches are very strict. They give us hard sets. In my head, I tell myself I can’t do it. They’re so strict about the sets, I actually finished it. Deep down, I felt good and then I died. They really know what they’re doing and they’re friendly about it.”
FINA selected Hilal as a scholarship recipient after seeing his results at the 2016 Summer Olympics. “If it wasn’t for FINA, I’d have to pay for everything, and I can’t pay for it. There are a few swimmers we swim with that actually pay and I believe it costs a lot. I thank FINA for sponsoring me because I wouldn’t be able to pay for anything. They pay for my trips to go to international swim meets. I’ll be going to Budapest, thanks to FINA.”
In retrospect, training for Rio was a fun experience. “Whatever I did right or wrong, only thing in my head: it was something really hard that I thought I couldn’t do.” For his preparations for Tokyo, he is laying a foundation with gym workouts as well as training in long distance swimming and endurance exercises.”
Hilal has plans to study sports management in the United States of America. He wants to get a Masters’ degree and a coaching certificate. In the long term, Hilal wants to coach little kids, run his own swim club and own a sporting complex.
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