One family’s 50 years at Hearts

I have compiled the following account of the Whike family’s association with Heart of Midlothian A.S.C., and the sport of swimming in general over the past fifty years, mostly from memory but with reference to old photographs, memorabilia and from conversations with members of the Whike family. I apologise for any glaring omissions or inaccuracies.

Part i: Looking for a Club.

When we lived in Penicuik, in the middle 1960s, my wife Pat and I regularly took our two girls,   Lorna and Hazel, to public swimming sessions at the Bonnyrigg swimming pool where we taught them basics of swimming. The girls made good progress and naturally, as proud parents, we had grandiose ideas that we had two potential Olympic champions on our hands so we looked to enrol them into a competitive swimming club. Since the only one we had ever heard of was a club called Warrender, we arranged a trial for them but were slightly disillusioned and a little miffed when Hazel was accepted but her elder sister Lorna was rejected, so we decided to take our business and our two budding champions elsewhere and a few weeks after receiving our rejection slips, on a Sunday in 1971, we arrived at Glenogle Baths, the home of Heart of Midlothian A.S.C. We immediately fell in love with the Club in old Victorian building, the officials and the whole organisation and both girls were welcomed into the Club. But of course, one and one makes three and in 1972, our son Alasdair (Ally) was born. Fast forward fifty years and the Whikes are still closely linked to the Club. Thank you Warrender, you did us a great favour!

Part ii: Early Days.

When we first joined Hearts, the Sunday “Club Day” was the main session of the week when every group had an allocated time-slot between midday and four p.m. There was also a very active parent’s support group which served tea and home bakes and other goodies from a table on the balcony and on reflection, it was from this group that the Club gained its well-earned reputation as being the best supported and most friendly Club in Edinburgh with a large travelling support at galas and competitions and which, in turn contributed much to the S.A.S.A. (Eastern District) establishment, providing several Presidents and an army of officials. At the time, Warrender may have been the biggest and competitively the most successful club in Scotland but Hearts was certainly the friendliest and most welcoming, with a large heart to match its name.

At the time we joined, the only other training times the Club had were two sessions per week for more advanced swimmers on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 8-10 pm. Lorna was initially given a place in one of those squads and later she was joined by Hazel who had made very rapid progress. When he was three, Ally was initially accepted into the “Novice” (learn-to swim) Group under the watchful eye of Mr. Henniker who had a novel, if unusual modus operandi of encouraging new swimmers to simply jump in “to see if they survived.” Ally did – if only just! But he loved the experience and he couldn’t wait for Sundays to come around. He made rapid progress and, with the encouragement of the Club Chairperson Helen McLeod-Bain, Ally astonishingly completed a one-mile sponsored swim at the age of five, causing a lot of people to dig deeply into their wallets!

Part iii: Club Organisation

When we first joined, Hearts, was a relatively small Club run mainly by enthusiastic parents with volunteer trainers and coaches. But it soon became clear, that to progress competitively, some professional input and assistance was required so, through Helen McLeod-Bain’s good offices, Jim Burgess was appointed as the Club’s first ever qualified part-time professional coach and the Club was completely re-organised, competitively and structurally. A proper committee structure, comprising mostly of enthusiastic parents was established and proper competitive swimming groups with a promotion and demotion system introduced. One volunteer who was also a lecturer at Dunfermline College set up a series of swimming teachers’ training courses with the result Hearts soon boasted more qualified swimming teachers (Pat, Lorna and I among them) than any other club in the District. This helped enormously with recruitment at the “bottom end” of the Club enabling a proper learn-to-swim scheme to be established. Pat, with her head and memory for figures became Records and Entries Secretary and I was elected to the Executive Committee, eventually becoming Club President.

Part: iv: Family Swimming Achievements.

Over the years, all three of our offspring progressed and became highly proficient and successful competitive swimmers, although Hazel was the most outstanding. (Warrender must have spotted something!) She gained many Club awards including the overall Club Championship and the 200 yards breaststroke Rose Bowl, on several consecutive occasions. She also gained East District representative honours and became East District Champion, her speciality being breaststroke. She also became the first Hearts swimmer (I believe) to qualify for the British Championships the year they were held in Coventry. But for Pat and I, her most satisfying achievement, in a perverted sort of way, was when she was invited by Warrender to join them on a European Tour. (Evidently, they were short of quality breaststrokers at the time!) It was also a great time for Ally because, by chance, Hearts happened to have four very good juvenile boys, each of them individually outstanding in the four disciplines. Scott Hill (fly) Richard Baird (back) Keith Hattersley (Breast) and Ally (freestyle).  Over a period of two years they swept the boards at numerous “Mini Meets” which were all the rage at that time. I can’t argue that minis helped swimmers’ longer-long-term development because few such swimmers went on to be outstanding seniors but it was a lot of fun at the time and laid the foundations of the Club for years to come. But more importantly, it was a great character builder for youngsters. I have seen literally hundreds of children pass through the Heart’s and other Club’s hands and have yet to see any of them develop social problems in later life. Ally then followed in Hazel’s wake by winning many Club titles and gaining East District representation.

Part v: Outreach

In those early days, apart from District and friendly inter-Club competitions, Hearts was not deeply involved with competition outside Edinburgh but this gradually changed. We first established an exchange with the Derby Phoenix Swimming Club, which lasted for several years and after Lorna and Hazel were given training facilities at Arbroath St. Thomas during our annual holiday at Lunan Bay, an exchange lasting several years was established between our two Clubs.

Part vi: Club Centenary 

To commemorate the Club’s Centenary, the Executive Committee made the courageous decision to re-design the old Club badge. Although the old badge had served the Club well, it was one hundred years old, was thought to have become somewhat old-fashioned and should be modernised. The task was delegated to parent John Timms who came up with the design which is still currently used by the Club and I still hear complimentary remarks made about the badge. As a spectator at galas, there can be doubt which Club the swimmer represents! Well done, John Timms, wherever you are!

In preparation for the Club’s Centenary in 1985, a programme of celebratory events was drawn up and as President, I was tasked with organising two of them. The first, would be a weekend “jolly” for young, non-competitive swimmers and the second, a competitive tour taking in a visit to another Club, preferably somewhere in Europe. Quite an ambitious undertaking!

For the first, we plumped for a weekend visit to Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Ayr and I remember this venture for two main reasons. First, the weather (and particularly the sleeping accommodation) was extremely cold and unwelcoming, as opposed to the unquestionable efficiency of the Camp staff who were warm, friendly and efficient, especially when considering the large numbers of people. Meal times were spectacular when very acceptable meals were served up. It was an eye-opener and a real experience – although, to be honest overall, not one I would choose to repeat!

The second Centenary event was made possible by an invitation to visit the swimming club of Douarnenez on the extreme Northwest tip of Brittany. Pat and I had first made contact with this Club by witnessing a road traffic accident when on holiday in the area a year earlier and through this contact we organised a Club exchange with Douarnenez Swimming Club. Douarnenez is remote with very poor air links and, for a large party, is best reached by coach journey to Portsmouth for the cross-channel ferry link to St. Malo. Our journey was however, eased by stopping off at Reading A.S.C. for a gala arranged courtesy of Hammy Smith, the then Scottish Director of Swimming, before continuing our journey. When we finally arrived in Douarnenez, we were given a warm welcome by the French Douarnenistes and many long-standing friendships were forged. On reflection, our team probably had the best logistical support of any team on a similar venture. In addition to a full team of qualified Coaches, we had our own Dentist, Physiotherapist and Accountant all of whose skills were fully utilised. We also had our own travelling Midwife whose skills, fortunately, were not tested! A year later the Douarnenez Club paid a successful return visit to Hearts and to this day Pat and I are still in regular contact with and occasionally make visits to our friend Gerard Kerbiquet who had set up the original exchange at his end.

Our third Centenary Event was, naturally, a special Centenary Gala held at the Club’s spiritual home of Glenogle. All the best Clubs in the District were invited and the Edinburgh District Council Parks Department did us proud by decorating the old lady – Glenogle, that is – not Pat, with some wonderful floral displays. The Lady Provost, in full regalia, presided over the event and presented the trophies and awards. It was a memorable event!

Part vii: Swimming after Hearts:

Lorna Whike. Armed with her Swimming Teacher’s Qualification, gained while still a young competitive swimmer with Hearts, Lorna has continued her close association with swimming up until this day, despite her husband Paul’s career as an R.A.F. Chaplain keeping them constantly on the move all over the world with opportunities for competitive swimming opportunities few and far between. However, Paul’s retirement and their settling in Arbroath has enabled her to renew her previous interest and now, armed with a recently acquired clutch of swimming and coaching qualifications, she is currently head coach at the very strong Arbroath St. Thomas Club where she and Hazel trained all those years previously. Paul and Lorna have two children, daughter Kathleen and son Iain. Kathleen is a fully-qualified N.H.S. nurse and Iain a qualified physiotherapist. Before he went to University, Iain followed the family swimming tradition and was a first-class competitive swimmer reaching numerous Scottish finals.

Hazel Whike: As I mentioned previously, of our three children, Hazel was probably the family’s most successful competitive swimmer and after she “hung up her costume” and left school, she worked with Scottish Widows Insurance Co. for several years. Following a disastrous Head Coach appointment, Ally took over as Head Coach for several years with Hazel as his assistant until the current coach, Phil Potter took over. I have to say that between them, Hazel and Ally together managed the Club wonderfully during this critical time, Hazel did this while holding down a demanding “day job” and between them they steered the Club through one of its most successful-ever periods and in recognition for this and her outstanding swimming achievements, Hazel was awarded Life Membership of the Club. Hazel subsequently emigrated to Majorca where she is married Tony, a marine engineer, and she currently works for Hotel Beds, a large tourist company.

Ally Whike: Ally, was metaphorically born in a swimming pool when he was first subjected to (and survived) Mr. Henniker’s unorthodox teaching methods in 1975 and he has been closely involved with the sport of swimming ever since. His “mini” and other competitive exploits are mentioned above and when he was sixteen, through the Club’s good offices, he became a qualified Swimming Teacher. When he eventually left school, he attended Leeds University and gained a degree in Leisure Studies. During his time in Leeds he rubbed shoulders with Paul Bush, Terry Dennison and Steve Purchase – three big names in the sport. Ironically, after he returned to Edinburgh, the job of Head Coach at Hearts became vacant but Ally’s application was unsuccessful! However, the “successful” applicant was eventually found to be unsatisfactory and Ally was awarded the position to become Head Coach, Heart of Midlothian A.S.C. from 1993 until 2000 working alongside his sister. During this time he also completed a Post-graduate Diploma in Sports Coaching at Edinburgh University. He then moved to a very “posh” position at St. Bede’s School in Upper Dicker (near Brighton) where he set up a well-resourced competitive swimming project. But the draw of Scotland proved too strong and after four years, he returned north to become Performance Coach for the East of Scotland Institute of Sport and National Youth Squad Coach at the Institute for Sport and in 2005, he became Performance Director of Swimming for Scotland and (later) Director of Aquatics.  Ally is married to Paula and they have three daughters, Laurie, Lizzie and Ella all three of whom have followed the family path through Hearts. Laurie, the eldest is shortly to make a start at Aberdeen University, studying Sports Science. Lizzie is in her final two years at South Queensferry High School and is in the top swimming group at Hearts while Ella is still at Kirkliston Primary but loves and looks forward to her weekly training sessions at the Club so mum and dad are both still at the “unpaid taxi-driver” stage of their children’s swimming careers.

Part viii (addendum)

People I rubbed shoulders with at Hearts.

Marion Robinson:A special word of praise here for parent/teacher/coach Marion Robinson who remains, in my memory, the finest motivator of young children I have ever met. During the day, she worked in the offices of the Edinburgh District Council but she could, and maybe should have been in the teaching profession.

Helen and Alex McLeod-Bain (Mr. and Mrs. Swimming.):Helen and Alex were both longstanding members of Hearts when Pat and I arrived at Glenogle. Both were also stalwarts of the East District and both eventually became President of that organisation.

Elspeth Wallace: Elspeth was Club Secretary at Hearts throughout my time on the Committee and during my time as President. Elspeth was a professional P.A. and as such being secretary of a swimming club must have been a doddle! I was so grateful to her for her generous support.

Bob Smith: An Accountant with Scottish Brewers, Bob gave so generously of his professional time. Every Sunday he was on duty at the front door of Glenogle for four hours making sure everyone paid their dues and that the money was properly accounted for.

Tyrie and Mary Sheils : Tyrie was a bank manager and Mary the mother of three wonderful swimming children. Tyrie was also vice President during my term of office during the Centenary Year. Together they injected a lot of common sense (Tyrie) and enthusiasm (Mary) into the Club and in many ways were responsible for a time of spectacular advancement at the Club.

Robin Whike

September 2021