PARALYMPIC hero Josef Craig hopes more people will be inspired to take up swimming with the opening of a new £4m pool.
The 15-year-old gold medallist, who won the 400 metres S7 freestyle final at the London Games last year, officially opened the Jarrow Community Pool yesterday.
He unveiled a plaque in the building before testing the water himself.
Josef, of Jarrow, said: “I feel deeply honoured and privileged to open this facility. This pool is not just going to be great for me, it is going to be great for everyone in the community.
“It will provide more sporting activities for everyone to keep fit and healthy, and have an active lifestyle.”
The youngster, who was named BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2012 and was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list, started swimming at the age of seven and began competing when he was nine.
He now trains for 17 hours a week but is looking to extend that schedule.
Josef, a pupil at St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive School, in Hebburn, added: “This is my local pool and I will be spending quite a lot of time here. I swim for 17 hours a week but I want to do more training.
“This is an amazing facility and I hope there will be a few more people taking up swimming.
“South Tyneside has always been great for sports and leisure facilities, and this will only add to that.” At the opening ceremony, guests were also shown a video clip of the moment he won his gold medal at the Paralympics.
The 25-metre four-lane pool, on the site of Jarrow School, in Field Terrace, has a hydraulic floor, which means the depth of the water can be adjusted. There is also a deep end to allow competitive swimmers to dive.
It was built using funds from the former Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Building Schools for the Future programme.
As well as schoolchildren, the pool will be used by swimming clubs and community groups such as scouts and guides. There will also be a schedule of activities and group sessions such as family and adult-only swims which people can book in advance.
Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Eileen Leask, said: “We were all gripped by Olympic fever last summer. By providing facilities such as this, we can continue to nurture the talent we have in this borough.
“I can’t think of a better person to unveil this pool than Josef Craig. He has been a huge source of pride to the whole borough. He’s a great inspiration and a true sporting hero.
“Who knows how many stars of the future will swim their way to success in this pool? It will provide a real focal point for the community.
“A great deal of careful planning and hard work has gone into this project and it’s fantastic to see it come to fruition.”
Among those set to use the pool are youngsters from the South Tyneside Swimming Club.
Hannah Kirsop, 14, of Jarrow, who started swimming at the age of five, said: “I love swimming. We currently train nine times a week and we usually go to pools in Boldon and Hebburn.
“The new pool is very nice. It’s a great facility for swimmers like us as well as people in the community. I’m sure we will be coming here more often.”
South Tyneside has always been great for sports and leisure facilities, and this will only add to that