BIRTHDAY boy Josef Craig is planning to make more big waves in his glittering swimming career.
As he turned 16 at the weekend, the South Tyneside swimming star reflected on the most amazing year of his life, including grabbing gold in the S7 400m Freestyle and breaking his own world record at the Paralympic Games in London.
The Jarrow-based pool star, who also clinched the title of BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, spoke about the transformation his young life has undergone in the last 12 months, after accepting a £200 training boost from residents at sheltered complex Patrick Cain House, in South Eldon Street, South Shields.
Days after being named Sportsman of the Year and receiving an award for Contribution to Disability Sport at the Gazette Sports Awards at Jarrow School, Josef admitted his life has “changed completely” in the last year.
Josef, who celebrated his 16th birthday with family and friends yesterday, said: “I remember quite clearly that I was down when I turned 15.
“I was thinking about a fifth of my life being over and wondering about what I hadn’t achieved.
“But I could never have dreamed what would happen in 2012. I had just got over a thyroid problem and the thought of winning a gold medal at the Games was not even in my mind.
“The Paralympics are still quite vivid, but now I’m looking to the future, mainly to the Paralympic World Championships in Canada, in August.
“My big ambition is to improve as a swimmer and be as successful as possible. Later on, I would like to inspire others by becoming a sporting figurehead and maybe a motivational speaker.”
Josef said the death of the close family friend he calls Uncle Andy last year inspired his sporting achievements, adding: “But whatever else I achieve will be in the hands of the big man upstairs!”
But the immediate future involves Josef studying for his GCSEs at St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive School, Hebburn, combining it with a punishing training schedule at Boldon Pool, Jarrow Community Pool, Hebburn Swimming Pool and Sunderland Aquatic Centre.
Josef added: “Long-term, I may have to train full-time at the High Performance Centre in Manchester, which could involve moving down there.”
Ann Nightingale, a resident at Patrick Cain House, said: “The residents clubbed together and held raffles and other events to raise £200 towards Josef’s training costs.
“We’ve helped Josef before and look on him as almost an adopted son.
“He’s a lovely lad and we wish him all the best.”
Josef thanked residents, saying: “These people are the best and the money was an absolutely lovely gesture.”
His parents, Kim and Ken, also thanked residents at the housing complex for their generosity.