It’s all going swimmingly after my op
OLYMPIC and European swimming champion Brian Jenkins could not resist returning to the waters just 12 weeks after undergoing a major heart operation.
The 71-year-old, of Old Town, suffered his second heart attack in January, and in April he had double bypass surgery and had a replacement aortic valve fitted.
With the green light from his surgeon, the father-of-two, who won silver at the European Games in 1962 in the 200m Butterfly and was placed 10th at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is back at the Milton Road pool, where he has been training since the 1950s.
“I was given the ok by the surgeon and now I go to the pool four times a week,” said Brian.
“The swimming baths attendants know about my heart surgery so they follow me around the pool with a pole with a hook on the end so that if I sink they can hook it to my swimming trunks and pull me out.
“Swimming again has helped me a lot. It’s brought me back to health.
“I love the feeling of wellbeing swimming gives you.
“After the surgery I didn’t do anything and I was frightened until I got the ok from the surgeon. When I went swimming I realised there was no pain. It was unbelievable. It woke my whole body up.
“It’s in me I can’t stop swimming.”
Brian was nine when he underwent surgery on both his feet to correct fallen arches.
Swimming was recommended following the operation and after a few lengths he was addicted.
At the age of 14 he was chosen to represent Swindon against other schools in the rest of the West and went on to win the All England School Championships at 15.
A year later he joined the British team and competed across Europe in the butterfly category.
At just 18, he scooped silver at the European Games in Leipzig in 1962 and was placed fourth at the Commonwealth Games in Australia that same year.
His career culminated in the Olympics two years later when he came 10th.
To this day, Brian still holds the Swindon speed record for the 200m butterfly: 2min 49.9 sec.
But competitive sports in the 1960s were poles apart from today’s with no sponsors to speak of, financial help or any of perks champions are showered with.
Following the Tokyo Games, Brian retired from professional swimming but this did little to diminish his passion for the sport and he proceeded to assist coaches at the Milton Road pool.
“I had finished my apprenticeship as a plumber and we had to start earning money,” he said.
“There was no support then. I had no coach.
“The sacrifices were just incredible. My mum had to do a cleaning job to pay for all the food I needed. No one knew about nutrition back then.
“I trained three hours a day but that’s all I could do because we didn’t have goggles back then and if you stayed in the pool too long, because of the chlorine, your eyes would sting. My eyes were constantly blood-shot.”
At the age of 40, the Olympian re-entered the competition circuit, this time as a steroid-free bodybuilder and went on to be crowned British champion three times.
After decades spent constantly challenging himself, seeing her husband abandon his exercise regime would have not only surprised but worried his wife Jill.
“I would have been worried if he had not gone back to the pool,” she said.
“He likes a challenge and to do things as near as he can to perfection.
“Having a heart attack scares people to death so for him to have major heart surgery and do this is incredible. I’m very proud.
“He was always someone who was going to get to the end of the pool first. It has been his life ever since.”