Michael Gunning is a 26 year old professional swimmer. He grew up in Orpington, Kent, but has been representing Jamaica since 2016.
How did you get into swimming, and what do you love about it?
My parents put me into swimming lessons when I was four as they wanted my brother and I to learn water safety skills from an early age. Swimming is one of those sports where you have to fully commit mentally and physically to what you’re doing... every arm stroke, how you’re moving through the water - I love how swimming can take your mind and body away from everything else in the world and challenges you in ways you never knew were possible. When I was seven a swimming coach at Beckenham Swimming Club spotted me and said I should look at joining a competitive swimming club, and I eventually worked my way through the club to the National Squad.
What was your swimming experience like as a black athlete growing up in swimming?
For me I’ve had such a wonderful experience growing up as I’ve always been treated like everyone else. During my school years, people always used to say to me ‘black people don’t swim’ but I’ve managed to smash that stereotype to pieces by competing in two World Championships and breaking four Jamaican Records. I used to love bringing in my medals from the National Championships and various International meets and prove everyone wrong.
What was your experience like coming out whilst being a professional athlete with such a global platform?
I had an incredible coming out experience as everyone reacted better than I could have ever imagined! Swimming this past year has taken me all over the world and for every international competition, I’ve received nothing but love and support for my story. I didn’t expect my life to resonate with so many people, so I suppose I was shocked to get so much attention over just being myself whilst doing the sport I love. But the more people I spoke to and heard their stories, I realised that not everyone can be as honest as I have been without repercussions and it’s great to be in a position where I could help them.
What is your most memorable moment in your swimming career?
I’ve had so many amazing moments in my swimming career so far, but for me the highlight was attending my very first World Champs in Budapest. The swimming pool was incredible and I got to watch and support my diving teammates (Tom Daley, Grace Reid and Robyn Birch) compete in their best events. After the diving, everyone on Team GB had some great swims and I managed to get a personal best time in both my heat swims, so it was one of the best swimming weeks of my life.
What would your message/words of advice be for young swimmers?
Never let your colour, sexuality or ANYTHING hold you back… there are no limits!