Our little farmer boy who grew up to become an Olympian...

THAT'S OUT BOY...Alan Campbell home for Christmas pictured with his parents William and Jennifer at Bann Rowing Club on Boxing Day. CR1-172PL
THAT'S OUT BOY...Alan Campbell home for Christmas pictured with his parents William and Jennifer at Bann Rowing Club on Boxing Day. CR1-172PL

AS a boy he dreamt of becoming a member of the clergy...or even a farmer.

But even his proud parents, Jennifer and William, still have to pinch themselves when they look back on childhood pictures of Olympic rower Alan Campbell.

“He had two left feet at Irish Society [Primary School, he had no sporting credibility whatsoever,” opined mum Jennifer candidly as she recalled her son’s fledgling years last week.

“So for us to have an Olympian in the family it’s quite unbelievable.

“He tried everything, running, volleyball, he loved mini rugby, nothing would put him off. But when it came to teams being picked he was always the last one picked.

“It just goes to show you that you can’t judge the potential of any child at primary school age or how they will turn out.”

Dad William recalled an anecdote of how Alan finished 24th out of 25 boys in a race from the halfway line of the rugby pitch while he was at Coleraine Inst.

“A week later he finished second on two laps of the pitch because he didn’t know when to stop running...he had that endurance.”

Alan’s impressive physical attributes were evident from birth.

Jennifer recalls: “He came into the world a big boy, weighing 10lbs, 8oz, and was born at the Robinson Hospital in Ballymoney.”

But future sporting greatness didn’t really feature on the young man’s mind when he began Irish Society Primary School.

“When he wrote a story in primary school about what he wanted to be when he grew up he said either a minister or a farmer,” laughed Jennifer.

Alan’s dad and his father all hailed from farming stock so it’s no surprise to see Alan aboard a miniature tractor as a boy.

Now an international sportsman who has travelled the world at the very pinnacle of his sport, their son got his first taste of globetrotting during his final days at primary school.

“Alan spent three months in Australia - May, June and July of P7 at Irish Society”, says his mum wistfully.

“He was with his granny and he went to visit his aunt Anne in Darwin. He spent two months in school over there and loved it.”

Back at home Alan joined 2nd Coleraine Boys Brigade and approached any activity with unbridled enthusiasm.

“He just loved taking part in everything,” Jennifer says.

“That’s right,” says William. “Even if he was the last picked in his mind he was the most important person on the team.”

It was as a 15-year-old under the tutelage of Coleraine Inst coach, Bobby Platt, that Alan found his true calling when he began to excel at rowing.

But Alan, who grew up in the family home of 25 years at Castlewood Avenue, never changed from that little boy pictured directing traffic as a kid.

His parents say he has always had a great sense of fun and mickey-taking and this made him a very popular head boy of Welbeck Sixth Form College in Woodhouse, Leicestershire.

Jennifer and William will travel to London this Thursday to stay with friends in Maidenhead near the Olympic rowing venue of Eton Dorney in time for Alan’s first race on Saturday.

The couple were in Athens and Beijing when Alan rowed in the quad and sculling events respectively and also travelled to New Zealand for the World Championships in 2010.

“This will be the best Olympics of them all, because it’s our Olympics,” suggests Jennifer, who retires as principal of DH Christie this December.

“Alan will be coming back from training in Portugal then it’s off to the team hotel straight away.

“He’s on top of the world at the moment.

“I’d say he’s in Muhammed Ali form at the moment but without the poetry to go with it. Physically he’s in very, very good form and excited.”

Let’s hope Britain’s finest sculler of his generation can give his family and the borough even more to cheer about in the final on August 3.

Just another reason to add to the family photo album...