Jumping through hoops has become part and parcel of Dan Wallace’s road to redemption after he was caught more than two times over the legal drink drive limit earlier this year, and, as he faces the media, he concedes that the lapse in judgement has often left him with little to smile about.
But it is in this environment, among the men and women who will join him on the plane to Gold Coast in March, that he sees salvation.
Wallace catapulted himself into the nation’s consciousness in the Tollcross pool, at the last Commonwealth Games. An unexpected gold medal in the 400m individual medley, followed by his impromptu bellowed Braveheart celebration meant he was headline news and, when he added a silver in the 200m individual medley and silver in the 4x200m freestyle relay, the gregarious athlete, who was a scholarship student at the University of Florida, was held up as a role model.
But fame always has a flipside and the 24 year-old was shamed when news broke that he had been charged with drink driving in June this year. Pleading guilty, he was banned from driving for a year and fined £600. There was also significant damage to his reputation and his career.
Both British and Scottish Swimming ruled the offence violated the athletes’ code of conduct and suspended him for three months. He also had to undergo a programme of support designed by a psychologist at the Scottish Institute of Sport and undertake weekly medical checks.
“There were definitely times when I could have just hung up the goggles and that would have made things a lot easier for me. I did think about it. I thought; ’Ok, I’ve had a great career, just move on’ but I wanted to prove that I could come back from this. It is easy to do well when things are are going well but it is really hard to do well after you’ve had a real bad time.
“I saw it as a challenge to try to pick myself up and it was hard, I would overcome one hurdle and there would be a new one the next day and that went on for a good few months but the worst is behind me and it is about running with the momentum I have now.”
The Edinburgh swimmer admits he has often struggled to accept the realities of life as a “boring athlete” and has always tried to find a balance that allows him to succeed in the pool while not feeling he has sacrificed everything else.
“There is definitely a lot of fun to be had within the sport and I try to make the most of that. But it is a gruelling process and there is a lot of pressure so it is important to be relaxed and make sure everyone is having fun and you are bringing the best out in them, with a smile on your face.
“Athletes are quite boring and I don’t want to be a boring athlete,” he added in a recent interview with the BBC. “I want to be myself. It’s why I have been so successful but also why I have had my downfalls. It’s about getting balance now, having fun without hurting yourself or anybody else.”
The suspension did harm him, though, and effectively wrote off a major part of the season. It meant he missed this year’s British Championships and left him scrambling to make up for lost time and opportunities and still find a way to force his way onto Team Scotland for next Spring’s Commonwealth Games.
Already in possession of those trio of Commonwealth medals, as well as a World Championship gold and an Olympic silver, Wallace said adding to the medals is no longer the sole motivation.
“Four years ago I was a really young swimmer, now I’m a more senior swimmer. But, at the same time, I am still learning, as an athlete and as a person. I am getting towards the end of my career and I am thinking about the kind of person I want to be when I leave the sport and what I can leave as my legacy in the sport.
“In the last four years my public persona has grown immensely but I’m not the perfect athlete or the perfect person or role model. It was never my intention to be that. I just wanted to be as good a swimmer as I could and be myself. Everyday I try to stay true to that. I am not advising anyone to look up to me but there are some great things that I have done and do daily that people can learn from. I am different, though.”
Having booked his place on the plane to Australia, he will attempt to defend his title and, in the process, prove himself all over again to a public who don’t quite know whether to cast him as hero or villain.
“It was hard to be taken away from swimming for a couple of months but it gave me time to realise what it is I want to get out of the sport. It was always ‘I want to win this medal, I want to win that medal’ but now that I have won all the medals I wanted to win, every other one is a bonus and, for me, it is now about what I can give back to the sport and to my team-mates. That gives me a slightly different approach going into this Commie games compared to the last one.
“I have a lot to prove to myself. I’m coming off a really poor season and it is more difficult for me to do well but I want to prove that I can bounce back from a poor season and have a good one.
“That is my incentive and it is quite exciting.”