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Olympic swimmer Lewis tells: ‘I’m doing it for Mum and Dad’

With Paris in his sights, the Kiwi champ pays tribute to his biggest supporters
Lewis sitting on some metal stairsPhotos: Amalia Osborne

He’s currently the golden boy of New Zealand swimming, but outside of the pool Lewis Clareburt is also cheekily referred to as “the golden child”, at least by his two older sisters.

“And it’s not because of my sporting abilities but because, as the youngest, they think Mum and Dad love me the most!” he laughs. “I won’t dispute it.”

Since moving to Auckland from Wellington in November, the swimming superstar misses their good-natured ribbing and the luxury of his parents’ cooking.

However, when the Weekly visits his apartment ahead of his second Olympic Games, there are remnants of a home-made lolly cake that his mum, Robyn, lovingly sent up with Lewis’ girlfriend, Georgia Frawley, the previous weekend.

“We’re all really close,” smiles the 24-year-old. “My parents have invested a lot in me. Not just financially, like in trips away to compete, but my dad David was up at 5am to take us all to swimming.

Lewis breaking the water's surface while competing
Competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“He was a workhorse for us, so he became pretty happy when I got my driver’s licence,” says Lewis, who is the current World Champion in the 400 metre Individual Medley.

“My parents never had the opportunity themselves as kids to do organised sport. Mum had five siblings and her own mother died when she was only eight, so Mum was immediately thrown into taking care of everyone.

“So when she raised her own children, she wanted us to do whatever we wanted. I did everything… running, cycling, golf and tennis.

“And they never put any pressure on me to do well. They just wanted me to have fun and soak up the journey I’m on. I’m pretty grateful.”

As a young boy, Lewis tagged along to the local Capital Swim Club to watch his sisters Ali and Amelia train. Naturally, he wanted to join them and quickly discovered he was talented in the water too.

“Ali still holds some Wellington swim records, and when I was a kid I used to be called ‘Ali’s little brother’ because she was the big dog in the family, but these days she gets called ‘Lewis’ sister’ and gets mad at that!”

Now, as the driven athlete rigorously prepares for his Games campaign – he spends 22 hours a week in the pool. Lewis hopes to win New Zealand’s first Olympic swimming medal in almost 30 years.

Lewis and his family at sister Ali's wedding
From left: Lewis, his sister Amelia, brother-in-law Mackenzie, sister Ali and parents Robyn and David.

All his family are heading to Paris to cheer him on along with Australia-born Georgia, 23, and her mum.

He reveals the pair met in 2019 on the Gold Coast while he was training in Australia. They dated long-distance until early last year when, Georgia, a financial analyst, moved across the ditch to join him in Wellington.

“Then, eight months later, I went through some coaching dramas. Georgia could tell that I wasn’t very happy and needed to come up to Auckland to train with a new coach,” explains Lewis.

“She had started a job in Wellington and couldn’t really leave. But she now goes to my parents’ place for dinner twice a week! After Paris, I’ll reassess where I’ll need to be based.”

When Lewis competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he found himself experiencing Games glory of a different kind. Becoming a hit on social media. His behind-the-scenes videos on TikTok quickly went viral with more than five million views.

The first one showed him and fellow swimmer Ali Galyer deconstructing a mattress in their Olympic Village apartment.

Pulling off the mattress, he showed how the base was constructed with cardboard and the mattresses were made of three different plastic panels. (People have told him that the Paris Olympic Village is going to have the same beds)

“I saw Ali was frustrated, so we started trying to figure out how to make her bed softer and I pulled out my phone to start recording. I decided to post it, and then went to sleep. When I woke up, my phone notifications were going through the roof.

“I went from creating an account on TikTok to gaining 120,000 followers in two weeks. It was crazy.

“I have always enjoyed sharing my swimming journey online. I love showcasing the fun side of things as well as the not-so-fun side. It feels like I’m showing the younger version of myself what I’m doing now and that he would really enjoy it.”

Lewis and Georgia on a path in Arizona
With his girlfriend Georgia in Sedona, Arizona last year.

Quick fire questions

Is it true you eat pies for breakfast? 

When I first moved up to Auckland, I didn’t have any food in the apartment. So, on a couple of occasions, I’d have to go and get something to eat before I swam. A journalist from The Crowd Goes Wild caught me that first time. I was buying an emergency pie at a petrol station and he brought it up at a press conference. Since that moment, everyone thinks I eat pies every morning.

Do you get kids asking you for swimming advice?

Yes, they’ll message me on Instagram but don’t usually have the confidence to ask in person. One, the other day, was a 16-year-old who said he was struggling because he hadn’t had a Personal Best in six months. I said, “Well, mate, I haven’t PB’d in two years on that event.” I don’t see myself as giving the best advice, but I try to be encouraging.

What did you learn from training with current 400m world record holder, Leon Marchand?

I was so fortunate to train with him in the US. I got to see that he does a lot of specific stuff that I could incorporate into my programme. He’s quite reserved, book-smart and super hard-working. He’s also six seconds faster than me, which is quite a bit. It’d be nice to knock him off his perch, though!

Share your proudest moment?

Qualifying for the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Because I was a late selection on the team, I got to individually call each family member to tell them and hear their reactions. There were definitely screams and tears!

Lewis is competing in the Olympic butterfly, men’s 400m and 200m individual medley from July 27-August 4.

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