Updated: Mar 8
Our very own Andrew 'Andy' Donaldson
When he’s not travelling around the world or tucking into haggis, our favourite Scotsman, Andrew 'Andy' Donaldson is usually near water.
Whether it’s helping our clients perfect their technique or churning out laps of his own, Andy has a passion for swimming after a very successful international career.
Since moving to Australia in 2013, Andy has excelled in pool and open water swimming and he's now formed Swimclan with mentor and personal friend, Martin Smoothy.
Andy spoke with us about his journey and swimming career while giving us an insight into the future of Swimclan.
How and when did you first get involved with swimming?
"My earliest memories of swimming go back to family holidays in Spain. Every morning my whole family would swim around this pylon at the beach every morning. Sitting on the shore, I would watch that and want to be out there with them in the elements enjoying that freedom.
My uncle John went on to teach me how to swim, he would grab me by the foot and pull me into the middle of the pool before letting me go so I was forced to learn quickly. I look back on it and obviously we don’t do that now, but it got the job done! My sister Hannah and older cousin Graeme then started competitive swimming back in Scotland and it wasn't long before I followed their footsteps into the sport.”
From humble beginnings
What have you achieved in swimming?
“My career started in the pool after joining local club North Ayrshire ASC in the west of Scotland. I started competing from the age seven and although I wasn’t the strongest or biggest, I always had good technique. My coach Sharon would have me race every event under the sun, and at age 11 I won my first national medal in the 400m Individual Medley racing against guys in the age group above me who were much bigger and had impressive moustaches.
From there I continued to grow and went on to win a number of titles at age group levels across Scottish and British national championships, breaking national records along the way. I knuckled down to pursue the Olympic dream and this ended up taking me around the world racing for club and country. It was some journey and I've always been very grateful to have met and worked with such incredible people along the way.
After moving to Australia in 2013, I discovered open water swimming and surf lifesaving. Coming from Scotland where you're considered quite brave to swim outdoors, these were both very new to me. However I enjoyed the fresh challenge and very fortunately went on to win some of the most iconic events here in Western Australia including the Busselton Jetty Swim and Rottnest Channel Swim. I'm also one of a handful of swimmers to swim the channel between Saudi Arabia to Bahrain which is pretty cool."
Surf racing at Cottesloe, WA
What kind of benefits has swimming given to you mentally and physically?
"When I started out over twenty years ago, little did I know just how much the sport would go on to shape my world. It brought me over to the other side of the globe here in Australia and many of my closest friends were met through swimming, it's really amazing.
In terms of physical benefits, swimming really is the ultimate fully body workout. You’re using all of your muscle groups and developing your lung capacity because you obviously can’t breathe whenever you want. It's also a sport which teaches and prepares you for so many aspects of life such as being patient, handling pressure, dealing with hard times and developing an incredible work ethic. Not everyone wakes up before sunrise to jump into a pool on a rainy day so it can really test and push you to the limits, but you learn and grow a lot from it.
From a mental perspective I didn’t realise the benefits swimming can provide for you until I stepped away from the sport. It’s just so important for your mental wellbeing. Swimming for me is a part of who I am and if I miss it, then I feel it. I notice mental changes when I’ve been out of the water for a long time and for me, it acts as a release from the day to day activities because you can just switch off and just enjoy being in the present.”
19.7km later after a successful Rottnest Channel Swim Solo in 2018
What kind of career did you pursue while you were swimming?
"Outside of the pool, I followed my grandfather's footsteps into the world of business. My grandfather was a large inspiration in my life and I always admired how selfless and helpful he was to others around him. I didn't necessarily envisage myself running an accounting practice like he did, though I believed I could develop a well-rounded knowledge in business to one day use for helping others.
In Australia, I worked in public practice speciliaisng in audit, financial planning and superannuation. Over the years, I also held treasury capacities on several sporting committees and I completed both my RG146 Diploma of Financial Planning and professional Chartered Accountant qualifications."
What made you want to change career path and set up Swimclan?
"Although I enjoyed and learned many things working in public practice accounting, deep down I always knew it was not for me. From a young age, I had always wanted to use my skills and knowledge to help others, I just didn't know how best to do this. Earlier this year, I reconnected with Martin Smoothy and he presented a vision he had to create a swim business for adults.
Martin wanted to do things a little differently, stressing the importance that this be a business for positive life change. Swimming was simply the vehicle used to achieve this. Following some heart to hearts, we discovered that we shared many similar values and both strongly believed we could create something capable of delivering long lasting life changes to all involved. It was then that we joined forces and decided to create Swimclan."
All smiles for Andy and Martin after a 2.4km ocean swim
How do you think Swimclan is unique?
"When we were deciding which direction to take Swimclan, we looked at the market and felt there were a lot of programs and squads out there for the already established swimmer. However, for newcomers or those who might never have considered trying swimming before, we didn't see much. It seemed the barriers for entry into the sport were high.
For a newcomer, triathlete or adult wanting to improve their fitness through swimming, they might turn up to a squad, be thrown in the deep end and not understand all the swimming jargon thrown around. Other swimmers may be churning out laps whilst the coach barks orders from the side, they might not know what to do, what’s going on, and can quickly be feeling out of place.
We therefore set out to make Swimclan a little different. We wanted to create programs and a safe community that could cater for swimmers of all backgrounds and help them feel best placed to develop as part of a group. Moreover, we wanted people to see themselves in their fellow squad members, not young teenagers who swim rings around them because nobody enjoys that.
Since starting, many of our guys are new to the swimming and have choosen to develop their skills and confidence in the water together. It's great. Already, we're seeing a lot of growth and success as people are doing things in the pool they might have never thought possible. Some could barely tread water when they started, now they're doing tumble turns, continuous laps, and excelling. This is flowing into other aspects of life as guys are finding themselves with increased energy, confidence at work, better sleep and are feeling better both physically and mentally from our sessions. It's wonderful to see."
Friday funday at Swimclan Scarborough
What are your goals for Swimclan and your own swim career?
"Both Martin and I would love to bring swimming to people that might never have had access to it or a clear pathway to getting started. In addition to our core sessions, this could be running initiatives to culturally and linguistically diverse communities and those with disabilities. Swimming is so engrained into the culture of this country and I strongly feel that everyone should have access to the sport and be able to enjoy it's benefits.
In terms of my own swimming, I wish to continue enjoying what I do and throw down some fun racing at every opportunity that I can. Maybe one day I'll have the chance to swim the English Channel as it's a holy grail of open water swimming.
Our Swimclan team also has plans to do a team open water swim across Lake Victoria in Africa. This would cover a distance of almost 300km and we'd do it to try raise awareness of swim skills and aquatic safety over there. This body of water is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world due to drownings, and if we could go there and successfully raise money towards much needed life saving infrastructure, it could really make a difference and save countless lives."
Surf Life Saving at Scarborough Beach
What are your hobbies and passions outside of the pool?
"I'm a passionate Scotsman so any opportunity to eat haggis, neeps and tatties is always taken! I'm also most definitely a lover of the great outdoors and take after father with my passion for exploring, travelling and learning about different cultures. I recently took a year out to backpack around the world and I have now visited over 45 countries from all corners of the globe. It's fascinating to see what's out there, experience new ways of life and meet interesting people.
On a day to day scale, I'm a big believer in giving back to the community and to sports which have played such a big role in shaping my life. Through the summer in Perth, I volunteer at the City of Perth Surf Life Saving Club providing surf rescue services on weekends. I enjoy opportunies to commentate for Swimming Western Australia at their state swimming championships and most importantly, I'm a proud member of the Perth City Swimming Club. The club has been family away from home since moving to Australia and I will always enjoy watching the success and develpment of swimmers in the club and helping out where I can.
Swimming in Lake Bled, Slovenia