WITH three daughters born four years apart, Bendigo mum Catherine Wassing was looking for a fun activity her girls would all enjoy, and thought dancing would be an easy option.
She was wrong.
While her eldest two embraced their classes and are still studying ballet today, young Imogen had other ideas about what she did – and didn’t – want to do.
“She kept saying she hated dancing and just wanted to swim,” Catherine recalls.
“It got to the point where she wouldn’t even get out of the car at dancing.”
So at the age of five, Imogen swapped her tutu for togs and jumped in the Bendigo East pool where her siblings already trained, and started lessons with respected teacher Val Campbell.
“She just took off in the water,” says Catherine. “She’d sat and watched her sisters for so long that she knew exactly what to do.”
With determination and drive well beyond her years, Imogen was soon powering her way through the water and recording times that turned heads.
In 2011, she was ranked the fastest seven-year-old female breaststroker in Australia.
At eight, she qualified to race at short course country championships against girls up to three years older and only missed the 11-and-under state sprint breaststroke qualifying time by 0.02 seconds (she got it easily the following season).
Imogen competed at long course country titles and state sprints this year and still has another two summers in the 11-and-under division – the youngest age group contested at that level.
Now 10, she holds several school, club and district swimming records.
The grade four St Francis of the Fields Primary student will be in the national spotlight in July when she represents Victoria at the School Sport Australia championships in Melbourne.
It will be her first experience in a state squad and she is looking forward to diving in for her favourite event, the 50m breaststroke, and being part of a freestyle relay team.
The talented youngster was selected on the basis of her performances in the pool over summer, and her bronze medal breaststroke swim at the School Sport Victoria state finals in April, when she swam a cracking 44.69 seconds.
“I think she was more pleased about her time than the fact she got a medal,” says Catherine. “That was her goal and she did it. She could get all the trophies and medals in the world, but she’s more interested in swimming the time she’s aiming for.
“It's ironic because even though she can do breaststroke so well, she tends to like whatever stroke she has just done a big PB in on the day. That becomes her new favourite.”
Imogen trains up to four times a week and is part of the bronze squad coached by John Jordan at the Bendigo East Swimming Club.
Sisters Brittany, 14, and Ella, 11, are also club members and accomplished swimmers.
“There is huge rivalry at home over swimming, especially between Imogen and Ella,” laughs Catherine. “But now they are both going after Brittany’s breaststroke time!”
She says Imogen is very laid back about her swimming when on dry land but seems to flick a switch whenever she is in the water.
“She's just so cruisy, but she is also focused and she knows what she's got to do. She doesn’t compare herself to other swimmers, she just goes out and swims her own race.
“She says she hears John’s voice in her head when she swims and she wants to please him.”
Catherine also jokes that her daughter is so organised that she usually has her bathers on ready for training before they’ve even reached the roundabout on the way out of school.
“We've always told Imogen to just go with the moment and enjoy herself,” she says of the advice she and husband Mike have offered along the way.
“We don’t talk much about the actual swimming because she listens so well to John and we’d probably get it all wrong anyway.
“So we just tell her to ride the rollercoaster when you do a bad time, because then you can really enjoy it when you do a great time.
“The national carnival will be just another swim meet for her and she wants to soak up the atmosphere and just have fun.
“If she gave it all up next year that would be her choice, but I can see her swimming for a very long time because she just loves the friendships, the culture, the team environment and hearing everyone in the grandstand cheering them on.
“When it's so social, kids tend to stay involved for longer.”
Imogen’s swimming idols include Olympic and world championship medallist Alicia Coutts and Australian freestyle representative Cameron McEvoy.
But she also has sporting role models closer to home in the senior swimmers at Bendigo East.
“She really looks up to the older kids around the club, like Kate Jordan, Isabella Symons, Callum King, Jacob Waller and Rebecca Holmes,” says Catherine.
“They have a really good rapport with the young ones, who hang off every word they say.
“When Kate swam at the national open-age titles this year, even though her race probably wasn’t going to be shown on TV, Imogen sat up late one night - wearing her bathers, mind you - waiting to see if she came on.”
Imogen is excited to be representing Victoria at the national schools championships, where Kate Jordan will also be on the team alongside her.
“I haven't been to a meet like this before, so I have no idea what's going to happen,” she says with a casual shrug. “I would like to get a PB, but I just want to do the best that I can.”
She is grateful to her coaches and her parents for their support, saying she could not have achieved her goal of reaching this level of swimming so early without them.
And she promises she’ll be churning out many more laps over coming months and years.
“If I ever quit swimming, I really don't know what I would without it,” she says.
“And if mum or anyone else said I had to give it all away, I wouldn't listen.
“It's definitely more fun than dancing!”