A SHORT drive down Victoria Drive takes us to the doorstep of the Coventry household, a stone’s throw or two from Newlands Shopping Centre in Harare. By Tinashe Kusema
Waiting to welcome us are Lyn and Rob Coventry, the couple that worked their magic and gave Africa its greatest Olympian in Kirsty Coventry.
One would expect Lyn and Rob to be very popular.
“Well contrary to popular belief, we are not as popular as one might think. We have managed to stay far away from the spotlight and let Kirsty enjoy her time in the sun,” says Kirsty’s dad, Rob.
Adds mother Lyn, “There are the few times, when I am signing documents and people notice my surname.
The question they always seem to ask is whether or not I am related to Kirsty Coventry. When I tell them that she is my daughter, it is usually followed by a smile and a thank you.”
After the routine exchange of pleasantries, a quick chat about the weather and the recent Rio Olympic Games, out comes Queen Kirsty herself.
Wearing a nondescript grey sweater and black tights, she carries a small cup of honey – a recommended remedy for a scratchy throat. The queen of the pool is a bit under the weather.
A few steps behind her is husband Tyrone Seward, who sits next to his wife and holds her hand. Kirsty, who called time on an illustrious career after the Rio Games, feels she is in a good place.
“I have no regrets,” she says. “I have done everything I could and achieved so much; I have nothing else to prove. My only focus right now, is to rest and ready myself for work. I have a few projects lined that will keep me busy up until 2024.”
That is eight years from now?
“Yes everything is sorted. First, there is the issue of my commitments with the International Olympic Committee. I am a sports ambassador now, and will be traveling around the world in preparation and trying to promote the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
“The IOC recently launched the Olympic channel, something I am very passionate about, and I will be promoting it in the run up to Tokyo.
“I also intend to play my part in helping shape Zimbabwe’s future. I will definitely try and my part in helping mould our future stars. There is the Kirsty Coventry Swimming Academy, which I will be actively involved with,” outlines Kirsty.
When the subject switches to how her swimming career started, the great swimmer smiles and glance at the pool outside.
“My memory is a little fuzzy, given it was so long ago, but I think I started swimming when I was 18-months-old,” recalls Zimbabwe’s golden girl. “While I don’t really remember the specifics, when I look at some of my old photographs, from when I was young, I can see that I fell in love with the sport very early.”
Chips in mum Lyn: “It was more about teaching her how to swim rather than us seeing any talent. We had a swimming pool at the house and teaching her how to swim had more to do with her safety and well-being than anything else. We wanted her to be able to take care of herself should she fall into the water.”
What Kirsty’s parents probably did not know was that teaching Kirsty to swim would also help her deal with bullying at school.
“I was diagnosed with dyslexia at a very young age and found learning to be a big challenge,” reveals Kirsty. “I had to work really hard to get what appeared to be average grades for others. As a result of my condition, I found myself struggling with self-confidence and making friends, and I was bullied quite a lot at school.
“However, whenever I got into the water, everything became right with the world. I excelled at it very early and found myself getting more and more confident each time I swam well.
“I started making more friends, gained more confidence in myself and the results from my exploits in the water spread to every facet of my life.”
Meanwhile, depending on who you believe, Kirsty and Tyrone met in one of two ways.
“We met in South Africa, at a mutual friend’s house,” he says. “I was outside fixing the pool when she arrived, and I remember coming back into the house with my shirt off. She took one look at me and right there and then fell in love.”
Kirsty’s version is somewhat different.
“The truth is we actually had many mutual friends in SA and met at a get-together,” she said. “I didn’t really take notice of him, up until we started talking and found out we had many things in common; particularly our love for sport, Zimbabwe and life in general.
“We talked for a while that day and kept in touch after. We began dating and did so for a couple of years, before he proposed to me at the London Olympics, and got married,” she smiles.
“I knew for a while that I wanted to marry her and wanted the most symbolic and romantic way to pop the question,” continues the husband.
“It took months to plan, as I had to ask her father for permission first, plan the entire proposal and then get everyone, from her parents to her coach, involved.
“Unfortunately, the original plan didn’t work, and I won’t bore you with the details. I had to settle for doing it in the kitchen, the morning after her final race at the London Games.”
With competing out of the way, Kirsty and Tyrone plan on starting a family. Hopefully they will give Zimbabwe and the world another swimming sensation.