The Kirkcaldy-born swimmer had to battle back from a serious knee injury in 2018 but she has returned faster and stronger, handy qualities when it comes to living up to the Olympic ideal.
Asked what she discovered about herself during the battle back to fitness, Dawson is surprisingly forthright.
“I learnt I’m hard as nails. I didn’t just take it. I’m very proud of myself for that.”
She credits surgeon Gordon Mackay with saving her career after she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that put her Olympic dream in doubt.
Mackay repaired the damage and fitted an internal brace to Dawson’s knee, allowing the swimmer to make a swift return to the pool.
“It’s definitely revolutionary what he’s done,” she said. “And I wouldn't have gotten back into the pool competing as quickly as I did had it not been for that. I’m very grateful for him. He told me, ‘This is what I’m going to do’ and I was like, ‘Go for it!’”
Her time out of the pool meant more sessions in the gym and she is reaping the benefits. She broke two Scottish records at the Olympic trial in London last month, setting new marks in both the 100m and 200m backstroke.
“I feel 100 per cent stronger through my upper body than I did three years ago. I think that’s definitely to do with my injury as well, because there was nothing I could do. So all I was doing was upper body work in the gym. But I feel like that’s really contributed to how my stroke is these days.”
The 23-year-old will target the 100m in Tokyo this summer, an event in which she will aim to become the first British female swimmer to win an Olympic medal since 1960 when Natalie Steward took silver in Rome.
The wait for a women’s Scottish swimming medal on the Olympic stage stretches back even further - to 1952 in Helsinki when Lanarkshire’s Elenor Gordon took bronze in the 200m breaststroke.
The historical perspective demonstrates the scale of the task facing Dawson but she is not daunted. She used lockdown wisely and when the pools were shut she worked on her strength and conditioning.
“I think lockdown definitely benefited me,” she said. “My last swim from before Covid hit, it wouldn’t have been a podium potential swim. So I’ve definitely used lockdown to my full advantage and come out the other side, potentially, that I’m going to get an individual medal.”
There are opportunities also in the 4x100m mixed medley relay and she will have a chance to pit her wits against some of her potential Olympic rivals at the European Championships in Budapest, which start a week on Monday.
Dawson is one of five swimmers from the University of Stirling group who have been selected for Tokyo. Duncan Scott and Ross Murdoch will fly the Saltire for the men in Japan, while Dawson will be joined by backstroke colleague Cassie Wild and English medley specialist Aimee Willmott.