Engineering success in the pool and the classroom

I started swimming when I was four, close to my home in Mombasa

At that time, it was simply something to do and really enjoyable, but my family pretty quickly realised I was quite good at it as well. I began taking part in competitions and by the time I was 10, I was ranked third in the whole of Kenya in freestyle and butterfly events.
I made the national team the following year, and when I was 15 I broke my first national record.
But it was just after doing my GCSEs that I took part in my first international competition, at the 2018 African Youth Games in Algeria. I really enjoyed the experience, but it also showed me how much I needed to improve if I wanted to compete at bigger international events.
Swimming isn’t a huge sport back home. It’s definitely growing, but most people still tend to focus on athletics. Because of that, there isn’t any funding – or the level of facilities you need – to achieve the qualifying times for events such as the Olympic or Commonwealth Games. 
I knew that if I wanted to achieve my dream, I would need to move and I wanted to find somewhere I could train and study at the same time.
I had heard from other swimmers about the Plymouth Leander club and how it had helped them to improve. After speaking to the coaches I really wanted to come here, so I looked at the University courses and saw the BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering. Ever since I was young, I have wanted to know how things work and how they are made and I also love hands-on learning.
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>

The course and club meant moving to Plymouth was perfect for me

The city is big enough that you have everything you need close by, but not so big that there are huge distractions. I live 10 minutes’ walk from both the Life Centre, where I do all my training in the 50-metre pool, and the University. Being so close to both has definitely helped my swimming and studying.
I also managed to get a Sports Scholarship from the University, which has been a real help in funding my training, and have always received great support from both my lecturers and other students.
In the first year and a half after moving here in September 2018, my swimming improved massively. However, the COVID-19 pandemic really hampered my progress as I was unable to train properly for several months. It meant that when the trials for the Tokyo Olympics came around, I wasn’t at my peak fitness so I missed the qualifying times.
However, since getting back to full training the improvements have been huge. I set the Kenyan long course national record for the 400m freestyle in March 2022, having set the short course record for the 200m freestyle at the World Championships in Abu Dhabi in December 2021. I am also part of the record holding teams in four relay events.
Since coming to Plymouth I have also taken seven seconds off my personal best for the long course 200m freestyle, which is my favourite distance. 
So things are definitely heading in the right direction for the Commonwealth Games this summer.
A typical training week
Monday 5.30am swim 2pm swim 6pm gym
Tuesday 2pm swim
Wednesday 5.30am swim 2pm swim 6pm gym
Thursday 2pm swim 6pm gym
Friday 5.30am swim 2pm swim
Saturday 7am swim
Sunday rest day

Most weeks I will do anywhere between nine and 12 training sessions

That includes swimming and drills for up to two hours at a time, but also gym work to improve my basic strength. 
Most Monday mornings I wake up really energised and enthusiastic, and eager to get going after a day off. 
And whenever I am in the pool I am always trying to do my best and hit my target times. However, there are days when that doesn’t happen but I talk things through with my coaches and they help to keep me grounded and positive.
My hardest session of the week is on a Thursday afternoon. You’re already pretty tired as Wednesday has three sessions, but I then do a 2km warm-up followed by a tempo swim that can be anywhere from 6.5km to 8.5km. It means you are constantly swimming for almost two hours, and with a gym session afterwards your arms are burning.
It makes meals and recovery time really important, but I’m pretty disciplined with that. I’m always thinking that what I put into my body one day will impact what I’m able to do the next, so my housemates have got to know what I eat and when not to suggest we go out for a takeaway. 
With so much training to fit in, you also learn to value your time off and Sundays – when I have no sessions at all – I don’t tend to do very much.
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>

Balancing training and studying

Perhaps it’s because of my strict training schedule, but I have always been pretty disciplined and can plan my time well. I’ve always known that if I need to study, I probably have a limited time to do it before my next training session so I have to be really focused. I find it’s the best way to be sure that I’m training and studying to my full potential.
What that often means is that even on the days when I’m not in the pool at 5.30am, I am awake and working. So by 8am, I have already accomplished a lot. Then on Saturdays, once I have done my early morning training session, I normally work from 12–8pm to make sure I am caught up with everything.
It has been challenging at times, but if I have a big competition coming up – or have to travel abroad for something – my lecturers have been a huge support. And if I have an assignment to get in my coaches are really understanding.

That has helped me to balance everything to the point where I am about to compete at the Commonwealth Games, and then graduate, within a few weeks of each other.

My hopes for the future

Since I arrived in Plymouth I have come so far. I now have opportunities I wouldn't have even considered when I was younger, and I know there are now people who look up to me. 
So every time I swim I am trying to achieve my own goals but also inspire them, and make my family and coaches proud.
I don’t really feel that adds pressure – it gives me an added drive to succeed.
After I graduate from my course in September 2022, my plan is to try and find a part-time job with a company in or near Plymouth so that I can continue to combine work and training. The ultimate goal is to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
I know I am starting at quite a disadvantage because many of the guys I am competing against are full-time professional athletes. That makes a huge difference, particularly as they can train hard but also have time to recover fully between sessions. However, I am determined to give it my best as I do in every session – and if I am happy with what I achieve, and my family and country are proud, that is all that really matters in the long run.
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>
<p>Ridhwan Mohamed<br></p>
 

Sporting Excellence Scholarships for water-based sports

If you are a University of Plymouth student studying a full-time degree level course whilst competing at an international level in a water based sport, such as swimming or sailing, you may be eligible to apply for one of our Sporting Excellence Scholarships. There are five awards of £800 available per scholar per year.

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Ridhwan Mohamed

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Are you fascinated by technology and design? 

Primarily problem solvers, mechanical engineers design, create and use tools and methods in every industry from atomic physics to space exploration. They play a vital role in tackling problems that affect us all such as energy security; efficient manufacturing and smart cities. 
Our engineering students are taught by enthusiastic staff with strong industry links who use laboratory sessions and physical demonstrations to reinforce academic learning.

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Detail of a modern turbofan aircraft engine.<br></p>