The Scotsman was ten and still sporting water wings when his family went on holiday to Great Yarmouth. So excited was the Edinburgh lad that he jumped straight into the pool – without one very crucial thing.
“I forgot my arm bands,” he said. “The panic started to sink in. It was my oldest brother who saved me a wee bit from drowning.”
Most of us recoil from our childhood mishaps, leading to stubborn refusals to get back on bikes, skis, horses – whichever sports we spilled from – ever again. But Scott Quin isn’t most of us.
“From there on,” said the 31-year-old, “that’s when I really took the passion of what I wanted to develop in myself.
“It’s more so the fact of growing up with a disability, my parents always got told, ‘oh, your son won’t be able to do this, your son won’t be able to do that.’
“When you’re at school, you see guys doing different sports, you see gymnasts doing somersaults, backflips, my brothers playing rugby through their teenage years, and I’m getting told things like ‘you can’t do this’.
“So me finding a love of swimming, I can just be like, ‘I’m good at it. And I can show it’. And that’s where my character comes out.”
Quin isn’t just ‘good’ at swimming – he’s exceptional. Paralympic podium great, in fact, powering his way to S14 100m breaststroke silver, and a Games record, on his debut five years ago in Rio. And maintaining his place as one of over 1,000 Olympians and Paralympians in receipt of National Lottery funding which enables him to train full time and benefit from world class facilities, technology, coaching and support teams.
So how does one go from nearly drowning to defending a Paralympic medal in Tokyo? Grit, determination, mentors who became lifelong friends – and a lucky pair of pink boxer shorts.
Let’s rewind. Quin, a twin, was born with Crouzon Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder in which the seams between a baby’s skull bones close early, affecting the development of the face and eye sockets.
He underwent multiple surgeries and spent much of his childhood in hospital.
“When I was born,” said the affable athlete, “the doctor said to my mum and dad ‘your son’s only got a three per cent chance to live. We don’t really have any hope for him.
“So the way I look at it, is he says that to my mum and dad, so that means that 97 per cent of me, for the rest of my life, is just pure luck.
“And to make that extra three per cent, from 97 to 100, 100 per cent is what you’re going to see and what you’ll get from me.”
Quin grew up watching the Paralympics and was hooked by 2004, when fellow Scot Jim Anderson won four gold medals in the Athens Paralympic pool.
“I remember seeing him, and obviously [he’s] a wheelchair user,” he said.
“And I was like, I can walk. I can do everything. If he can swim up and down, I’m sure I can get out of armbands.
“I said to my mum and dad, ‘I’d like to try that’ and they got the ball rolling.
“I’ll always remember watching Jim coming away with his medals, and I said to my parents, ‘that’s Jim Anderson, he goes to the pool where you drop me off. That’s unreal.’”
Quin, who recently switched from Warrender to the University of Edinburgh, got his first big break in 2011 when he booked a place to the Europeans in Berlin, where he finished fifth. This is the bit where the boxers come in.
He said: “When I qualified I had my lucky pink boxers on that day. It could have been any colour of boxers, and I just thought to myself, I’ll just keep these from now on for racing, going up to the block, and just kind of showing my character a wee bit.
“I’m passionate, I love the sport, yes you’ve got to be serious because it’s a job, but I like to keep myself entertained.
“Two occasions I’ve been at a competition and someone’s tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘you’ve still got your boxers on.’”
Quin was “smashing PBs in everything he raced” in the lead-up to London 2012 selection, but missed the qualifying time by 0.1 seconds at trials.
He reacted by screaming through the intervening years, becoming European champion in 2016 and booking his place to Rio where he broke a Paralympic record in his first 100m breaststroke heat, touching the wall in 1:06.65.
Quin missed out on gold by three hundredths of a second – pipped at the last by team-mate Aaron Moores.
“This must be a kind of myth,” he thought. “To miss out on gold by three hundredths of a second, when my parents got told there’s not much hope for your son, we’ve only got a three per cent chance for him to live.
“I was like, that’s scary.”
This time around, Quin knows he has his work cut out in Tokyo. The world No.3 both set and subsequently lost his world record titles in the SB14 100m and 200m breaststroke. The “young pups”, he says with a laugh, are coming up fast.
So, he stated calmly, “I’m that older veteran athlete now. I’m going to try not to get myself worked up, and just keep being myself when I’m preparing behind that block.
“I’ll have my lucky boxers with me.”
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