Duane da Rocha's face lights up when you ask her what it means to be competing at Inacua again. “This pool is incredible,” she says. She has spent thousands of hours here, and hours and hours of training which led to an enviable career: she has competed in two Olympic Games (London 2012 and Rio 2016) and was European Champion in 2014, as well as achieving many other international successes.
The swimmer, who was born in Brazil but moved to Malaga as a child, will be competing in the Spanish Championship which takes place in the city from Saturday, and for her this is not just a competition like any other. Firstly because she will be on home ground, and secondly because it comes after a year when she has been away from elite swimming. 2017 was a year of transition, almost of detox, for this 30-year-old athlete. She needed to stop for a while.
“Just before the Games in Rio I became quite depressed but I did the best I could. Afterwards I took swimming a bit easier, but my problems didn't go away and I decided to give up for a while,” she says. “To do well at swimming you have to be well, physically and mentally. The physical aspect is easier to control, but the psychological side is much more complicated. I stopped competing internationally and for the Spanish team, because I couldn't give it my all,” she explains.
At that time she was living at the High Performance Centre in Barcelona to prepare for the Olympics, but she wasn't happy. The results in Rio weren't as good as she had hoped, although she expected that, and afterwards she decided to put an end to her stay in Barcelona. “I went home to recover completely and start again, if I can put it like that,” she says.
Duane returned to Mijas, the club she knew well, and to train in Malaga under Xavi Casademont -coach for the Andalusian Swimming Federation and head of the Specialist Centre for Sports Technification in Malaga - who knew how to bring out the best in her. “Coming home gave me confidence, and with Xavi I achieved my best results. He didn't really agree with me leaving Barcelona, but he has always supported me. I used to ask his advice while I was there, because in the end your trainer is also like your psychologist,” she says. This European champion has made a gradual return to competitive swimming. She is smiling again in the water, enjoying her sport and feeling excited about competing again. For her, swimming is more like a hobby again. “I'm much better, I feel refreshed. I'm thinking more about real life than about swimming,” she says. She believes this is not the time to put an end to her career, and when she does that she wants it to be her choice, not something forced upon her by health problems.
Surrounded by youngsters
Duane, who swims backstroke, started to train seriously in January, so how does she expect to do in the Spanish Championship in Malaga? “I did my trials for the Olympics here. I feel good, I am excited again, I am enjoying training and I really want to compete the way I used to. I don't really have an objective, but I'd like to surprise myself and really enjoy my swimming again,” she says. She will compete in the 50 and 100 metre backstroke, but not in the 200 metres, which is very demanding.
There is a great deal of young talent at the Specialist Centre, some are 12 or 13 years younger than she is. “I like to be with them, their hopes, their plans, their dreams are contagious. Right now I lack those aspects a bit, because I have been doing this for so many years and it is harder than when you're 20 years old. They help me more than I help them,” she says.
She is always aware that one day she will have to retire as an athlete, because that is something all professionals face: “It's like a rucksack that you carry with you, but now it worries me less because I am starting that transition,” she says. “Now I'm going to train as an air stewardess and I'm also doing things in fashion and on social media, which I like very much. I collaborate with the Jaked brand, an Italian competition swimwear and accessories firm, and I'm very happy with that. People have also suggested that I become a trainer, and I'm not ruling that out although after 20 years spending time in a swimming pool every day I can't say I'm that keen,” she says.
Before all that, however, next week she will be competing in the Spanish Championship at Inacua, and enjoying the event. No matter how she does in the competition, for those who watch her swim it will always be a pleasure.