When Jake Stephens was 4 years old the thought of going anywhere near a swimming pool was a nightmare.

"I hated it. Mum made me take lessons to learn how to swim," says Stephens of his mother, Karrie, a Napier mortgage broker.

It didn't help that neither she nor his father, Corey Stephens, a signwriter, were into swimming.

"I was scared of the water, I think," says the now 12-year-old from Lindisfarne College who has no siblings.


It took eight weeks and endless streams of tears before Stephens gave in to instructor Bev Mitchell, of Napier, to even dip his toes into the pool.

After he built enough confidence to start doing the basics, a patient Mitchell released him to the Napier Aquahawks club which coach Mike Lee ran at the time, although it was Karen Kamper who took him under her wings.

"She's just like a really nice coach and she's very good in supporting me," says Stephens of Kamper although Phil Melhuish, of Wales, has been the head coach at Aquahawks for the past six months.

Three years ago the lad took up the sport competitively and last year he returned from his maiden New Zealand Aims Games with two gold medals and three silver ones.

This week Stephens upped the stakes, clambering on the Aims Games podium for three golds and a silver and bronze each in Tauranga.

Now no one can keep the youngster out of the pool and now, when he lies on his back in the water, he gives his mind the licence to drift all the way to the giddy heights of the summer Olympics.

"I'd love to go to the Olympics because that's my end goal," says the youngster.

He trains eight times a week but rests on Sundays.

His conquests this week included gold medals in the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke events but he was never partial to the longest distance.

"I hated it but that was until yesterday [Tuesday] when I started to like it and it's now my favourite stroke," he says, revealing the 200m distance knocked the stuffing out of him.

He swam a "pretty good time" in the 200m backstroke heats after some encouragement from his mother on Monday to qualify for the finals on Tuesday night.

"I couldn't feel any part of my body after that," he says with a laugh.

Stephens also won a silver in the boys' 200m individual medley (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle) and a bronze in the 100m individual medley.

He smashed two AIMS Games records in the 200m backstroke and 100m backstroke events, eclipsed two Napier Aquahawks club times and broke the Hawke's Bay/Poverty Bay record, which has stood since 1985, in the 200m backstroke.

It was only the third time that Stephens had ever swum the 200m backstroke race in the final on Tuesday night to break the 32-year record.

For the record, the Napier Aquahawks member last year won golds in breaststroke although his favourite is butterfly. He got disqualified in his heats this week in the butterfly event.

Stephens is a good scholar and does most of his homework at lunchtime in school.

Karrie Stephens says as parents she and her husband were not swimmers but were determined their son should learn.

"It was horrible. He just used to cry and cry," she says, revealing they felt just as terrible and that he saw them as ogres.

For the adults swimming was not negotiable as they saw it as an overall confidence booster in his life.

"Every Friday for about 12 weeks he'd cry and cry but then he got to the point where he could tolerate it where Bev could hold him and reassure him."

The Stephens can't say enough about how the Mitchell magic transformed their son's life.

"He loves what she did for him and he's got a bit of buzz," his mother said.

Retired Greendale Swim Club coach Noel Hardgrave-Booth has also been coaching Stephens.

Ironically it was Hardgrave-Booth's son who had held that 32-year record.

The 181cm tall boy already has size 13 feet which he suspects helps propels him into contention in the pool lanes.

"They are his flippers," his mother says, finding parallels with former Australian Olympian Ian Thorpe who went by the nickname of Thorpedo.

"He's got the broad shoulders, the big feet and all the double-jointed things that make him flexible and allow him to rotate."

Karrie Stephens reckons either she or husband Corey must have the swim genes in their lineage but they have laid dormant for years.


Napier Aquahawks:
Ryan Hurley, 11, Tamatea Intermediate: 50m breaststroke bronze.

Olivia Wellington, 12, Taradale Intermediate: 50m backstroke silver.

Jake Stephens, 12, Lindisfarne College: 200m backstroke gold, 100m backstroke gold, 50m backstroke gold, 200m individiual medley silver, 100m individual medley bronze.

Trojans Swim Club:

Bianca van Zyl, 12, Twyford School: 50m butterfly gold, 100m butterfly silver.