Recovery has led to discovery for Hannah Miley. An enforced lay-off as she recuperates from ankle surgery in September has presented Scotland’s most decorated female swimmer of recent times with the rare opportunity to “take a step back and re-evaluate things”.
The soul-searching has proven to be both cathartic and surprising. As she approaches her 30th birthday, the combination of losing her lottery funding and the physical deterioration of her left ankle might have had some wondering if it was a sign that it was time to hang up the goggles.
Not Miley, however. Instead came the realisation that it is her innate sense of competitiveness that has made her such a successful swimmer – 22 major international medals, including two Commonwealth golds and a world championship silver – rather than swimming merely bringing that aggressive ambition to the fore.
That was the light bulb moment when it dawned on the Inverurie local that she owed it to herself to continue.
“The determination and the slightly mental streak are both still inside me,” she says, her left ankle, perhaps subconsciously, protectively tucked underneath her. “You have to be crazy to enjoy getting up at 4:30 in the morning.
“But I’m very determined and such a competitive person as well. I figured that out recently. I thought I swam and the competitiveness came with that. But now I realise I’m competitive regardless if I’m swimming or not.”
She is evidently irked that she has been written off in some quarters and with the idea that, when she does eventually retire, it won’t be on her own terms.
“It has been frustrating hearing people talking about me retiring,” she adds, the famous Miley smile temporarily disappearing. “I have never mentioned the R word. People are making assumptions and I don’t like it when they do that. It is my sport, my career, and I am the one who is in control of when I finish.”
Tokyo next year would probably be the ultimate time to go, and qualifying for a fourth Olympic Games is very much in her thoughts. Her results in the 400m individual medley have improved incrementally each time – sixth in 2008, fifth in 2012 and then fourth in 2016 – and she will do all she can to be in the best shape to reach that stage again.
“I need to get my body to where I need it to be by the end of the year and then hopefully I would like to try to target the Olympic trials next April,” she reveals.
“The last few months have been tough as I’ve never had surgery before and never had to go through rehab. I had been having a little bit of discomfort in my ankle for about two years so I had an arthroscopy done and they saw that one of my ligaments was shredded, just completely frayed.
“So I had the operation and since then I’ve been changing up my training, building the ankle back up, getting into a bit of racing and training.
“I’d like to give my body the chance to race at the Olympics. To make a fourth one would be pretty cool. Three is pretty decent but if I didn’t try for a fourth then I would be kicking myself.
“You can’t do it half-hearted which is why it has been good to have this breather and opportunity to re-evaluate things to see what I can do to get the most out of it.”
Her perky enthusiasm and evangelical attitude towards swimming make her an ideal choice as the ambassador for December’s European short course championships in Glasgow. She jokes that it is a sign that she is getting old but it is a role she will embraced whole-heartedly.
“Being the ambassador is a huge thing as I love any chance to advocate swimming,” she adds. “I was never naturally talented at it – I just had to work really, really hard at it.
“There wasn’t a fancy facility to train in but I just made it work. I know there are a lot of athletes out there in a similar situation and I’d love to see them find that edge, that bit within them, that takes them through to enjoy a successful career.”