There’s only a select few who are just as influential in Australia’s swimming landscape than 2020 Roger Smith Technical Official of the Year, Bill Ford.
Ahead of this weekend’s 2021 Australian Open Water Swimming Championships, Ford has played a strong part in the evolution of open water swimming since 1986 when he joined the former Penrith Swimming Club.
After countlessly volunteering at the club’s annual ‘Bridge to Bridge’ open water event – attracting over 500 competitors during its peak in the 1990s – Ford joined Swimming NSW’s Long Distance Swimming Committee as a foundation member to help grow and revitalise the open water discipline and set out a fresh path for athletes to reach the international stage.
Now a member of the Nepean Aquatic Centre Swim Club, Ford currently holds a spot on the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee.
“Bill certainly had all along more of an interest in the open water than the pool swimming,” Alan Bentley said – co-founder and treasurer of the Nepean Aquatic Centre Swim Club.
“From about the mid-80s, he was instrumental with his involvement in the Bridge to Bridge each year. That's where I first came across Bill back in the mid-80’s, and obviously being a technical official, you start off with all your work in your pool and work yourself up to referee.
“But Penrith Swimming Club, just through dwindling numbers and everything, they actually shut up shop and folded last year. Which is why Bill, obviously being technical official, he has to be a member of a club and Nepean being the biggest club in the area.
“We've got some good senior level technical officials in our club, so he just naturally joined Nepean.”
The Nepean Aquatic Centre Swim Club reaches its 10-year anniversary this month after Alan and Karen Bentley, alongside Head Coach of the former Wizards Swim Team Inc., Jackie Barck, founded the club in March 2011.
Nepean formed from two existing local groups with many of its members hailing from former and nearby clubs as well as locals from the Penrith and Lower Blue Mountains region.
“Back at the time when we started Nepean Aquatic Centre, as in the complex, there was Penrith Swimming Club, Penrith RSL Swimming Club, there was Diving Swimming Club, there was Wizard Swimming Club and there was the old Nepean Swimming Club,” Bentley explained.
“I said, 'look, I don't want to go and form a new swimming club and end up with six swimming clubs in the area.' So, we really needed to consolidate what we had and pull the resources both in terms of swimmers and volunteers and technical officials.”
The club caters for swimmers of all ages and abilities with as many as 5,000 people enrolled in to its learn to swim program during peak season, all the way up to competitive training squad sessions which they also schedule.
Bentley says having a robust learn to swim foundation has the ability to provide a strong number of competitive swimmers to the club.
“Seeing its growth in the learn to swim side of things, which feeds into our obviously competitive swimming and swimming club over the last 10 years, it has grown significantly. We'd certainly be the leaders in the area in terms of learn to swim,” he said.
“I think the strong point is having the access to so many kids coming through. The more kids you have coming through your learn to swim program, the more opportunity you have to push as many as you can into the competitive side of things and into swimming club.
“We certainly experienced kids who couldn't wait to get back into the pool after the three months that we were closed (during the COVID-19 lockdown).”
In celebration, members of the club put their best foot forward to model the new arena swim wear range for the 2021 Australian Open Water Swimming Championships. Bill, Karen and Alan featured in the top photo! It was announced on Thursday morning that the iconic swimwear brand had extended its partnership with Swimming Australia.
Get your hands on this year’s event merchandise by clicking here, thanks to arena swimwear.
The 2021 Australian Open Water Swimming Championship takes place this weekend at Oz Ski Resort in Coolum Beach, Queensland. To learn more about this event, click here for additional information.
For just $5.99 you can catch all the action live from Coolum on SwimTV! Click here for more details.