This week the Rotorua Daily Post continues its series profiling local athletes as they prepare for the Olympic Games in August.
WHEN a 6-month-old Kane Radford splashed around in a swimming pool for the first time with his mum, he took to it like a fish to water, not even remotely aware the Olympics existed.
Fast forward 25 years and Radford will become the country's first Olympic open water swimmer when he suits up off the Copacabana coastline on August 15 for the 10km race against 24 rivals.
But the former John Paul College student had a nervous wait to have his place confirmed in the New Zealand Olympic team this week - after having to appeal to the Sports Tribunal against Swimming New Zealand's initial non-nomination.
"It has been a real mental battle and I found it hard to even get up and go to the pool," Radford admitted to Rotorua Daily Post.
"Support, especially from back home in Rotorua, kept me going and the appeal system is there for a reason and thankfully it's come out with the right decision in the end.
"A massive weight has been lifted off my shoulders and it's a dream come true.
"I have dedicated my life to the moment I'll be standing on the start line at Rio and I can't wait to embrace the experience and challenge."
Radford, who started competitive swimming as a 10-year-old with Swim Rotorua, is now based in Perth after making the move three years ago. It's a decision he said was paying off in the water.
"I have greatly benefited from the incredible facilities here and it's been a real learning curve as I'm training alongside a lot more experienced swimmers," he said.
"It's almost as if I'm treated as one of their own in Australia but I will always be New Zealand through and through.
"I would never even change my passport if I ended up staying here."
Radford finished 19th at the final qualifying event in Portugal last month, after placing 30th at the world championships in Russia last year.
As part of his Olympic preparation Radford will train at the AIS Aquatic Centre in Canberra alongside close friend and fellow long-distance competitor, Australian Jarrod Poort, who championed him throughout his recent appeal process.
"Jarrod was amazing throughout all of it," Radford said.
"It can be very lonely when you are putting a lot of hours in by yourself so working alongside Poort will get that little bit more out of me," he said.
"We are great friends but as soon as you dive into the pool the competitive juices start flowing and the friendship is put to one side."
Radford has plenty of family support from parents Garry and Bronwyn and older brother Reagan, 33, a former national swimmer, who he hopes will all buy plane tickets to travel to Rio to cheer him on.
"I've had a very up and down career and through everything my family have stuck by me and encouraged me to keep going," he said.
"It is quite short notice but it would be amazing if they could all come and I'm trying to get them over to Rio.
"They deserve to be there as much as I do because none of this would have been possible without them."
His mother said it had been "one hell of a roller coaster" and it was "incredible" to finally get to this point.
"It's only just hit me that my son is going to the Olympics. It's been a 15-year journey but completely worth it."
Radford is naturally sociable and flourishes in a "pumped up" environment. So there's one part of the Olympic experience he is particularly looking forward to.
"I'm very excited about the Olympic Village. I want to get the hype and soak in all the atmosphere," he said.
Radford will focus on an intensive five-week block of training in Perth before arriving in Rio on August 4.
"It takes several weeks to fully recover from a long swim so there won't be anymore competitive races between now and Rio," he said.
"I feel so honoured to be the first to represent my country at this distance and the Olympics will be the pinnacle of my career.
"I'm not putting any pressure on myself because I know my swimming will be lifted by the occasion alone."
And the proud swimmer has saved a special gap on his left arm, where a sailing ship with a blank flag is already adorned on his bicep, for a permanent reminder of his Olympic experience.
"I was in a bad place a few years ago and decided to get the ship which represents a journey in life," he said.
"I purposefully left the flag free so one day I could get the iconic Olympic rings tattooed on.
"But I certainly will not be getting it before Rio, that's something you just don't do.
"Competing in the Olympics and representing your country is the greatest achievement you can have as an athlete. I can't wait to live the dream."