CITY OF Leeds Swimming Club swimming starlet Layla Black cannot imagine life without the John Charles Centre for Sport where she trains.
“I have been here every day since I was 11,” admits the 17-year-old breaststroke star, for whom 2017 has been a best year yet.
Yet for Black, very soon life without the John Charles will become a reality as the teen gets set for a four-year scholarship at the University of Florida.
Black’s own departure will come less than one year after former club star and Rio 2016 Olympian Georgia Coates herself left for the National Centre in Bath.
Now Black, the natural heir to Coates’ throne at Leeds, is herself heading for pastures new through pursuing her own American dream.
Yet the teenager is confident there are still plenty of Leeds swimmers capable of graduating to the top stage and her 15-year-old sister Maisy is one of them.
Even though every year I do well and I have the moments to spur me on to the other ones, this has definitely cemented the dreams of Olympics and Commonwealth Games and stuff like that to me.Leeds-based swimmer, Layla Black
Upper Sixth St Wilfrid’s Catholic School pupil Black will be reflecting on her most successful year yet this Christmas following a double dose of success at both this summer’s Youth Commonwealth Games and European Junior Championships.
Two years after claiming golds in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events at the 2015 Youth Commies in Samoa, the Leeds ace defended one of her titles in the Bahamas by winning the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games 200m event as part of a haul of four gold medals for Leeds. But for Black, an even more notable success had presented itself just two weeks earlier when the teen star sealed British Swimming’s first gold of the 2017 European Junior Swimming Championships in Netanya, Israel by winning the 200m breaststroke.
The teenager will now attempt to make the squad for next year’s senior Commonwealth Games by excelling in trials later this month.
Black, though, has more on her mind than the possibility of a place representing England in Queensland next April with the swimmer set to start a four-year scholarship at the University of Florida next August.
It is a move the teenager hopes will ultimately help her en route to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Black, though, says no part of her success would have been possible without her first-class club and base at the John Charles Centre for Sport which she says will remain in excellent shape even after she has boarded the plane to the USA.
Facing up to the prospect that she has just nine months left in Leeds, Black said: “That’s really scary. I have been here at the John Charles every day since I was like 11.
“So to leave this is going to be ridiculously insane.
“The people that I have met in swimming I have known literally since I have started here so leaving them is going to be like leaving my family.
“When Georgia left it left a big hole for us in the group and we definitely felt it.
“But I feel like a few of us have stepped up to fill that so it’s just not necessarily one person, it’s kind of like all of us pushing to get better now.
“There’s a few girls that are definitely stepping up to the plate as well so when I leave next year hopefully it won’t leave as big as a gap as Georgia did.
“We have got Ciara Schlosshan who is an amazing fly/medley swimmer and Sophie Hobbah in the backstroke and Leah Crisp on the long distance front crawl.
“And also on the long distance and crawl we have my sister who is just starting to come into form no.
“Hopefully she will carry on the Black name here at Leeds after I have gone!”
Black expects big things from her younger sister and is relieved the duo will not need to lock horns in the pool with Maisy specialising at mainly 800m and 400m freestyle.
Black, meanwhile, has proved this year in no uncertain terms that there are few better breaststroke youngsters than her.
“This year has definitely been one of the best years of my career so far,” beamed Black.
“Winning the European (Juniors) gold medal was literally the highlight of my swimming career so far and to couple that with retaining my title at the Youth Commies, it’s been amazing.
“Even though every year I do well and I have the moments to spur me on to the other ones, this has definitely cemented the dreams of Olympics and Commonwealth Games and stuff like that to me.”
They are dreams that will now be taken to America but dreams fuelled and only made possibly by the facilities the swimming star will leave behind in Leeds.
Black reasoned: “I firmly believe that without the John Charles literally the club and Leeds would not have had the success that it has had.
“It’s been such a crucial factor in helping us to train to the best of our abilities.
“I know clubs that train in a four-lane 25-yard pool and when you compare that to what we have at John Charles ... I can’t imagine not having the John Charles. We are incredibly lucky.”