Is this Australia's brainiest sportsman? By Richard Cooke.


The professor: Cameron McEvoy, 20, swimmer

In my university class, only one or two of them know that I swim. All the rest think I’m just a normal person enrolled in a physics and maths course. So I could go from a swimming pool surrounded by sports, athletes and swimming, and then go over to the other side of the Gold Coast and go into university and I’ll be in a completely different environment, and being a completely different person in a completely different field. It’s good to have that escape as well. And, of course, when some of the people on my course – or some of the athletes – find out, they’re inquisitive. But it mostly stays with physics up there, and then with swimming with the swimmers.

You spend each session pretty much purely in your own mind. You’re swimming up and down the pool, you’ve got your head in the water, and the only form of entertainment aside from swimming is yourself.

It’s mentally challenging in many areas. But one area that’s outstanding is trying to deal with two hours every session, up to twice a day, spending that whole time in your mind. You’ve got to fight off the pain that comes with training, and the gruelling monotonous routine that comes with it, and also find the motivation to continue up and down the lap.

I’m going to wreck myself leading into Rio. What I mean by that is lifting the bar on every goal that I’ve set and setting it to the level above. And if I hit that before then, then I’m going to aim to the next level. It’s just a continuous striving for that next goal.

You have to have a high understanding of how your body reacts to certain types of training, and to certain types of emotions. It becomes a kind of intelligence, where you can understand that if you do this hard session, which targets this specific area, that the next day you’re going to be feeling like this. And that just takes a lifetime of experiencing, and guessing, and checking. I’ve been swimming since I was five years old, and I’ve been in proper hard squads since I was seven, starting down at Miami Swimming Club.

It’s helpful in my academic career. At university or at school, I’ve been able to get that motivation and that drive to pinpoint where I need to improve my mathematics or my physics. Trying to connect the little dots and put them all together.

The physicist who’s been most inspirational? Richard Feynman. He won the Nobel prize in 1965, and I think he spent most of his academic career at Caltech over in Pasadena in California. But, yeah, I kind of came across him during my gap year after school while I was training for the Olympics, and I read up on him, read up on his achievements. And the way he spoke about physics was just from such a different viewpoint and inspired me to go on myself and look up different areas of physics, look up different areas of anything that I was interested in, and go on a path created by myself.

Part of it is about finding a different perspective that might not be socially accepted. Let’s take swimming, for example. You look at swimming as a sport where you get people who are diving into the pool you’re trying your hardest to go up and down, trying to beat the person next to you. But then you can also look at it from another perspective where it’s just a bunch of living organisms, jumping into a hole in the ground filled with water, going up and down. An alien might see it as very weird and pointless.

A lot of the physics that I learn and a lot of the things that I read up on, can be at least analogous to my swimming. Recently I learnt about how as you get closer to the equator, the force of gravity on yourself is a little bit greater than what it would be, say, at the North or the South Pole. And to think of that, I can go straight back to swimming and imagine – say if I’m swimming in a pool on the equator compared to swimming in a heated pool at the North Pole. Just to sit down and think what the differences would be and if it would actually be noticeable, that difference in gravity, or if it would be negligible and whatnot. It’s just fun to think about.

1 . This week's highlights…

• Horseracing: Western Sydney Legends Day

Saturday, 12.40pm (first race), Rosehill Gardens, Sydney

• NRL: Warriors v Broncos 

Sunday, 12.05pm AEDT, Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

• Cricket: ICC World Cup Final – Australia v New Zealand

Sunday, 2.30pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground

• Soccer: A-League – Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC

Sunday, 3pm AEDT, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

• Swimming: 2015 Australian Swimming Championships

April 3-10, Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 28, 2015 as "The professor".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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