IN MARCH 1980 at the West Wight Swimming Pool’s mother and baby club, a three-month-old youngster called Darren Mew took to the water for the first time — with armbands, of course.

No one could have ever imagined he would eventually become one of the world’s finest breaststroke swimmers, who competed in two Olympic Games finals and who won numerous medals in European and Commonwealth Games and World Championships.

For a few years, Darren was second in the world rankings.

Isle of Wight County Press: Island-born Darren Mew in Great Britain’s colours broke several records representing his country.Island-born Darren Mew in Great Britain’s colours broke several records representing his country.

Back in October 1988, Darren — a lanky eight year old from Totland Bay — won the West Wight club’s under-nines 50m breaststroke title.

Ten years later, he was the British champion at the same distance — a feat he achieved on several more occasions.

He also won the 100m title on six occasions.

A local couple, Ann and Trevor Collins, really created the Isle of Wight’s world class swimmer.

They both spotted his potential at the West Wight Swimming Club — something Darren has never forgotten.

Isle of Wight County Press: Darren won the gold in the men’s 100m breaststroke at the 2011 NatWest Island Games.Darren won the gold in the men’s 100m breaststroke at the 2011 NatWest Island Games.

“Ann first noticed I had big hands and feet and thought I’d be perfect for the breaststroke,” said Darren.

“I didn’t know, until a few years later, Trevor had also quickly realised my potential and even thought I could become one of the best in Europe.”

Away from the pool, Darren played football for West Wight Youth and even scored a memorable goal from the half-way line, which, even today, he insists was intended!

His soccer skills as a defender were once described as ‘awkward to get by’.

A Southampton supporter, Darren was never born to be the next Neil Ruddock or Francis Benali in the Saints defence.

Isle of Wight County Press: Darren won silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2006.Darren won silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

For many of us, it was so refreshing to see an Island-born teenager go to the mainland with not a hint of an inferiority complex or an insular attitude as he became a champion.

In fact, Darren won his first-ever mainland race in Gosport.

That was in 1988 — and within three years he was fourth in the National Championships.

“Coming fourth in my first national event gave me the ambition to beat the three in front of me,” reflected Darren.

“That didn’t take very long.”

Darren was influenced by top British swimmers like Duncan Goodhew, Adrian Moorhouse and Nick Gillingham, but his greatest motivator was legendary sprinter, Linford Christie, when he won the 1992 100m Olympic title.

Mind you, his breaststroke was nowhere near as good as Darren’s!

Suddenly, that early morning slog of pre-school swimming training on wet and windy Freshwater mornings must have seemed so worthwhile.

He quickly became an emerging force in both British and European swimming circles.

Eventually, Darren moved to Bath University to join their elite band of a dozen swimmers.

Luckily, he also found sponsors.

It was tough. They trained in the pool for two hours in the mornings and then the same routine in the evenings — six days a week, week in-week out and — as well as weight and circuit training sessions.

“We were allowed the odd drink on a Friday night and had the Saturday off,” Darren adds.

“I just went to the cinema, or played music to relax.”

How did Darren celebrate his 18th birthday in December 1997?

He broke his first senior British record.

It was to be the first of many.

The following year Darren made his debut in the World Championships, in Perth.

The competition Down Under was fierce, but he gained valuable experience and, later that year, he won a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

During his celebrated career, Darren won ten medals in major worldwide events and made appearances in two Olympic Games finals.

He also broke British records in the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke.

Much closer to home, Darren set up the Darren Mew Trust Fund in 2000 to help support sports clubs and teams on the Isle of Wight.

He was a great inspiration when he swam for the Isle of Wight in the Island Games.

When Darren was first asked to appear live on the radio chat show, John Hannam Meets, back in the 90s, he said he did not wish to say much.

However, Darren proved just the opposite — oozing self-confidence and a pleasure to interview.

Nothing has changed since then.

Isle of Wight County Press: Darren now runs his own sports and fitness business in the Cayman Islands.Darren now runs his own sports and fitness business in the Cayman Islands.

Darren’s admirable self-belief led him to move to the beautiful Cayman Islands in 2011 to become a swimming coach.

Four years later, he opened his own business there called The Darren Mew Sports and Fitness Company.

Already, some of his youngsters have broken both British and Cayman Island records.

Darren holds another, much more unusual record, which will probably never be broken and without a swimming pool in sight!

Travelling back to the Island by train, from London to Portsmouth, it took him six hours.

He managed to catch the wrong one — eventually reaching Portsmouth, via Eastbourne.