Hannah Miley in front of Inverurie Town Hall
(Photo: Roddy Scott)
Hannah Miley in front of Inverurie Town Hall (Photo: Roddy Scott)

Pool success keeps swimmer Hannah smiley

Hannah Miley is Scotland’s golden girl of the pool.

The 29-year-old swimmer was raised in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, represented Great Britain at three Olympic Games, reaching the final of the 400 metres individual medley on each occasion, finishing sixth in 2008, fifth in 2012 and fourth in 2016.

A two-time Scottish Commonwealth champion, in 2010 and 2014, she has also been SportScotland’s Sports Personality of the Year on two occasions.

This interview with Hannah originally appeared in Scottish Field’s June 2016 edition.

I was born in Swindon but I was only there for three months before we came to Inverurie, and I’ve lived here ever since. I love it. I always look forward to coming home when I’ve been away. It’s not a tiny village, but it’s not a big city either – it’s kind of a nice in between.

And it’s just so relaxing, especially after a hard day’s training. There’s lots of wildlife roaming about – we see deer and red squirrels, and a couple of times we’ve had cows that have escaped!

Aberdeenshire was just a great place to grow up. I’ve always loved being outdoors and this is a wonderful place for that. We have two dogs, Molly and Flo, and there are so many great walks for them and for us on the doorstep.

They love a run in the Bennachie hills. Mither Tap is my favourite – I really enjoy going up there; we often climb it as a family on Boxing Day or at New Year.

Hannah Miley in front of Inverurie Town Hall (Photo: Roddy Scott)

Inverurie is actually one of the fastest growing towns in Scotland. It’s such a nice, quaint place and it branches out into all these little villages – Oldmeldrum, Port Elphinstone, Chapel of Garioch. It’s like a midway point. A lot of new houses have been built recently and we’re getting a couple more shops. We have our own business park now too, so you don’t have to drive into Aberdeen as much.

There are some nice places to eat as well. I really like Fennel on Burn Lane, which is such a nice restaurant. There’s Sabai too, a new Thai place. I’m not very good with spicy dishes, but the food there is amazing. Because I’m training, though, I have quite a strict diet, so it’s a treat to eat out. The only time I do is if my boyfriend has come up and we’re going out for dinner, or if it’s a special occasion with my friends or family.

Inverurie Town Hall is one of our landmark buildings. It doubles as a performance centre and there are concerts and pantos there. This area was really badly hit by floods in January and the community put on a fundraising concert with singing and dancing. My grandparents are part of a choral singing society and they had a slot. It was great.

The floods were devastating. I’d seen the River Don high, but never as bad as that. Port Elphinstone was very badly affected – people were evacuated and homes were ruined. We’re lucky because our house is quite high up,
but there’s a little dam by our house which overflowed and flooded the road. There was lots of water running off the fields and that flooded the road too.

Ironically, there was one day I couldn’t go training because I was surrounded by water. My sponsors, Watermans, have been really good – they provided me with a pretty sturdy car that can cope in the snow and with
most flooding.

Young Hannah Miley at home in Inverurie

I was three years old when my dad taught me to swim in a hotel pool in Aviemore. That’s where it all started. He was keen to get me in the water, purely from a safety point of view. That’s why my younger brothers, Alistair and Joey, and I swim – so my dad would be happy we were safe around water. I don’t think he ever expected us to get to the level we’re at now.

I joined Garioch Swimming Club when I was five and I’m still a member. I train in the local pool here in Inverurie. A lot of my competitors train at state-of-the-art facilities, but being based here works for me. It’s like the Rocky effect!

If it was too easy and modern I don’t know if I’d have the same drive and passion for it. And when I do get to use some of those facilities, it means I appreciate them a heck of a lot more.

Having the right coach is so important. I’m coached by my dad and if I was based anywhere else, he’d still have to be my coach. But environment matters too and one of the great things about being here is that everything is relaxed.

I can turn up to the pool in Inverurie in the afternoon and know I can get a lane – there’s no hassle – whereas some of the big facilities can be very rigid about when you can get in. There’s a real community spirit here.

People feel involved when they see me at the pool. When our training finishes at 8am, the public are ready to come in for a swim. They know all about my competitions and they’ll ask me how it went or congratulate me, or ask when the next event is. They seem to know all about what I’m doing and it’s really quite endearing.

I trained a lot through high school. It could be quite hard going, especially when you had to put in early mornings in the pool before school.

Some days I had training straight after school as well, so my hair was never properly dry. Swimming at this level is a big commitment – I train 35 to 40 hours a week. It’s a lot, especially when you’ve been doing it for so long, but that’s my life.

My family and my boyfriend keep me motivated. They’re so supportive. They’ve put so much effort into my swimming that I feel I owe it to them to perform at my best. It’s great to give something back to them, whether it’s the opportunity to come with me to races abroad, or me winning some silverware.

I do get a kick out of training hard too. Even if you feel knackered, if you can push yourself beyond that you kind of get a euphoria moment where you feel good about yourself. I’ve always been very competitive too. I don’t want to be outdone by the competition.

My first major championships were the Commonwealth Youth Games in Australia in 2004, when I was 14. That was my first taste of what it was like to be in an athlete’s village.

The following year I competed for Britain at the European Junior Championships and my first senior long course competition was the Commonwealth Games in 2006. It doesn’t seem that long. It’s nice to look back at photographs of all the camps and competitions I’ve taken part in.

I don’t know if it will ever feel normal, though – I’m not sure I really know what normal is. It still feels mad!

Winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was a special moment. The home crowd at London 2012 was spectacular, but it was very big and grand, and nothing could really prepare you for how to experience that or how to cope with it.

But having experienced London, I was more relaxed when it came Glasgow, and I knew how to use the crowd to motivate me and keep me positive. The venue felt a lot more enclosed as well. I guess it’s like comparing Inverurie to Aberdeen – you’ve got a town here that’s busy enough, but quite compact, and you’ve got Aberdeen, the big city. London to me was kind of like the big city and Glasgow was the town – it felt more personal and more homely. That made a huge difference.

Normally my event – the 400m individual medley – would be on the last day at the Commonwealth Games, but they changed the schedule so that it was on the first. It was the first final as well. There was a lot of expectation so I was so happy to win – it was a mixture of delight, and sheer and utter relief.

That gold has been one of my greatest achievements. Previously, only two other women have successfully defended their Commonwealth title. I’m the third. I was also the first Scottish swimmer to win a gold medal on Scottish soil, so that is another nice little bit of history.

People were so lovely when I got back from Glasgow. A group called Inverurie 4 U organised a parade for me and Viorel Etko, the wrestler from Oldmeldrum who won a bronze medal. We were paraded through Inverurie on a float.

We finished up at the town square and there were so many people there. We were piped in, and as soon as that happened I just burst into tears. I try not to get emotional, but I couldn’t help it. It was just so nice, the fact that people came out to show how proud they were of what we’d done, and the fact that they thought of doing something like that was lovely.

To relax, I read or watch movies. Sometimes I’ll take a trip into Aberdeen to go to the cinema or go shopping. There are clothes shops in Inverurie too, although I probably need to curb it – I’ve not got much space left for more clothes.

But when you mostly live in tracksuits, it’s nice having some normal clothes to wear.

I love to go to Pets at Home, even when I don’t need anything. I just go in to look at the rabbits and guinea pigs! I love animals.

All the way through school I wanted to be a vet, so I made sure I did all three sciences. My grades weren’t all As, so I probably wouldn’t be able to be a vet, but I’ve been looking into it recently and there are so many other types of work you can do with animals.

There’s animal hydrotherapy, for instance, which is rehab combining animals and water – my two favourite things. Something like that would be great to do in the future.