Tuesday 29th June, 2004


‘George is George, I am me’ ...says Nicholas Bovell

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Photos: Jon Hill


One morning Nicholas Bovell came hobbling into my English and the Media class. “What happened to your leg?” I asked.

Pulling up his pants leg to reveal a bandaged leg with stitches, Nicholas recounted quite nonchalantly how he and his friend David had gone fishing.

“David reeled in a fish and my leg somehow ended up in his mouth. Those teeth were sharp,” Nicholas laughed.

That’s Nicholas: always jovial and never worried.

It’s hard to tell if Nicholas Bovell, 18, is following in his family’s footsteps or fashioning his own identity in a family of athletes. His father, George Bovell II, was a competitive swimmer as is his famous brother, George III.

The names alone suggest a dynasty of swimmers, while his mother, Barbara, was a runner in the ’76 Olympics in Munich, Germany. (His sister, Alexandra, likes horse-back riding). Still, Nicholas says swimming was his decision.

“No one in my family ever pushed me to swim,” says Nicholas. “I always liked sports and I used to do plenty different ones; football, tennis, sailing. Eventually I narrowed them down, but swimming was my choice. In my house it was ‘Do whatever you want’. No one ever said, ‘Why don’t you swim?’”

Of course it didn’t hurt to see big brother George III swimming.

“I always looked up to George. We had a typical older brother, younger brother relationship. He used to beat me up all the time,” Nicholas laughs.

Ask Nicholas if it’s hard to grow up as George Bovell’s little brother and he’ll answer without a moment’s hesitation. “Not at all. George is George and I am me.”

People don’t compare him to his brother as much as you might think, Nicholas insists.

“And when they do, I don’t mind. I can learn from George’s example. He’s humble, not boisterous. Those are good lessons I learned from him over time. What he achieves doesn’t change him.”

While growing up, weekends and vacations in the Bovell family were spent fishing, going to Tobago or down the islands.

“If I had the choice to go to a movie or do something out doors, it would have been my choice to be outside,” says Nicholas. “I’m an active outdoors person. I like to surf and fish. Going to the mall and that kind of stuff doesn’t appeal to me.”

Nicholas says he always dreamed of going to the Olympics.

“As a little boy, I always thought about going to the Olympics. Last Olympics I came close to qualifying.”

But this time Nicholas did make the cut for this summer’s Games in Greece. The qualifying time was two minutes 6.8 seconds and he swam two minutes 5.2 seconds.

“Before I swam I knew that the odds were good, I’d make it. I was in good shape, I had been training hard.”

Confidence, like laughter, are strong Nicholas Bovell traits. He describes himself as “hard working, realistic, humble, and honest. I don’t know about disciplined because sometimes I don’t wake up in the morning,” he chuckles. “Nah, I’m disciplined, I know what is best for me.”

That includes the decision to leave school in Florida and return to Trinidad to train the year before the Olympics. Nicholas says that decision to return home was his – not his parents.

“I was ineligible to swim as a team member because I had too many credits at school and it made it look like I had five years of school instead of the usual four it takes to graduate, so I decided to come back home to train for the Olympics.”

Even with his grueling swimming schedule Nicholas never opted for an easy academic schedule. His last year of school included courses in Economics, English and the Media and Leadership.

“Don’t worry about your reading, Miss,” he’d say when he had to leave the country for swimming or check out a university dangling a scholarship in front of him like fish bait. “I enjoy reading. I’ll read on the plane. “

Nicholas always returned ahead of everyone else. The unit on the social and historical significance of rastafarianism was his favourite for the year, although he also enjoyed Heart of Darkness and the unit on film editing.

“My favourite all time book is Lord of the Rings by William Golding,” says Nicholas.

The last good book he read was Into Thin Air, based on a true story about a Mt Everest expedition gone wrong. Reggae is his favourite music and Bob Marley is his favourite singer. He has too much energy to sit through many movies, but he counts Braveheart and The Last Samurai among his favourite.

A typical day for Nicholas begins with waking at 4:10 am.

“I race to swimming; swim from 4.45 until 7.15 am; go to school, swim after school or go to the gym from 3 pm to 4.30 pm weight training, run on treadmill, and swim at 5 pm again.”

Then comes homework and some time for a very special girl. Earlier in the year, before he met Sarah, students asked about a girlfriend and Nicholas answered, “Her name is Chlorine.”

That was before he met Sarah Cansfield, an art student, who played volleyball and didn’t swim. This year, Sarah earned the top score in the US for AP Art for Two Dimensional Design.

“I can’t do art at all, you know, Miss,” Nicholas used to say as he’d watch Sarah’s art work in awe.

“Of course not,” I’d say. “You have fins – not fingers.”

“That’s because I’ve been swimming forever,” said Nicholas.

Nicholas began swimming competitively at age seven in St Andrews. He moved to Maple Leaf, and then to Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, before deciding to finish his education at the International School of Port-of-Spain.

Now that he’s graduated, Nicholas will be joining his brother George, 20, at Auburn University in Alabama. That doesn’t bother Nicholas. He knows he’s a swimmer in his own right, a multiple national record holder.

“It’s hard to be specific without writing a page,” he says about his accomplishments. He is the Caribbean Island Swimming Championship Record Holder for all the Caribbean Islands and he earned multiple medals in the CCAN Central South American/Caribbean championships; and Pan Am games where he swam the 200m backstroke, 100m backstroke, 200m individual medley and 200m freestyle. At the Olympics he’ll be swimming the 200m and 100m backstroke.

When Nicholas steps out of the pool after the Olympics, he will turn his attention to rocks. He’s going to study geology.

“That appeals to me,” says Nicholas. “I like it because it could be a job that you don’t have to sit by a desk all day.”

“I would have thought you’d want to do something like Marine biology,” I say teasingly.

Nicholas laughs. “It does seem to be the opposite of what I do. Come to think of it a rock sinks. It can’t even float,” he says with a smile as he jumps off the desk and heads for swimming practice.

(Debbie Jacob was Nicholas Bovell’s teacher at the International School)





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