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Thursday 21 September 2017

Holywood's other sporting hero

Mark Hilliard

THERE'S enough room in this town for two sporting heroes, so move over Rory McIlroy.

In Holywood, Co Down, this summer, all eyes will be focused on the pool rather than the putting green as the town's favourite sporting daughter, Melanie Nocher (24), seeks to put them on the map -- again.

"She has met him (Rory) but she wouldn't know him," explained Alan Nocher of his daughter, who had her first swim of the London Olympics yesterday.

There's a little bit of sporting magic about this corner of Ireland but, in the coming weeks, swimming will eclipse golf.

"We are very thankful for the sport. It's been a good thing for all of our children," said Mr Nocher, whose three daughters took to the water as children on holidays in the US.

Melanie failed to progress beyond her heat in the 100m backstroke yesterday, but is staying positive as she gears up for her main event, the 200m backstroke on Thursday.

Passion

For Melanie, swimming developed from a hobby in minor club competitions to a passion at all-Ireland level. From a young age, she rose early in the morning to train before going to school and returning to the pool later that evening.

"In her early days, from 14 to 18, it was a very, very big part of her life," said Mr Nocher.

"Because she was doing very well, her mother bought her one of those full-length suits -- light blue with dark blue panels. She painted her toe and finger nails blue and went out and won everything. She knew then that she was good enough to beat other people."

Sure enough, her Ulster-based competitions turned to 32 county gala events before moving to international swimming and to becoming Irish national champion at the age of 13.

As her father points out though, swimming is rarely a smooth road: "She had glandular fever where she flat-lined for a while. Flat-lining means you can't swim as fast as you could a year ago."

Melanie has surmounted those obstacles and is now competing in her second Olympics.

Irish Independent

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