In 2002 things changed and at the World Championships in Mar dal Plata, Argentina, he started to show why he is the champion he is. He took gold in the breastroke and silver in the individual medley at the event. It was the beginning of a gold era and in 2003 at the Telkom SA short course swimming championships he set three world records in the multidisability SB5 category – two on the same day in the heats and finals of the 50m breastroke. He then went on to shatter his own 100m breastroke mark of 1:33.59 which has stood for 10 years with a sizzling time of 1:31.77.
In 2004 at the Athens Paralympics he reclaimed gold in the breastroke event, beating his old rival Engel after 12 years. Tadhg says this will always be one of his best moments. “Reclaiming gold and beating my old rival was great.” The other event in his swimming career that stands out in his mind is meeting Nelson Mandela. “He is a wonderful man. I received a silver medal from him and will never forget that moment.” Since Athens Tadhg has continued his winning streak and won the 100m breastroke, 50m butterfly and the individual medley (200m) at the World Championships in Durban this year. Since then he has also started coaching swimming at Mandeville. Something he enjoys a lot. He believes South Africa has a lot of talent coming through.
“There are six swimmers and they are all very good. Generally the future of South African disabled swimming looks good. As usual more funding would help. This is especially so if you look at the talented swimmers coming out of the previously disadvantaged communities. They really could do with some more funding.”
Funding is, however not only a problem for the younger generations but also for Tadhg. Despite his amazing record, it has been his parents that have assisted him with his swimming career. “My mom and dad have been wonderful. Without them I could never have achieved all of this.” Tadhg’s mom, Di Slattery, is well-known in disabled swimming circles and it is because of her that disabled swimmers swim with able bodied swimmers. “What this has done for disabled swimmers can actually be measured by our results. It has lifted the standards of our swimming tremendously. It has been very good for us.”
Unfortunately, just like Scott Field, another paralympic hero, who retired from swimming after the Athens Paralympics, Tadhg is not sure about his swimming future because at this point he feels work must come first. “Full time swimming does not pay the bills and even with my coaching work I am not able to live. So I need to work and this means I will not be able to be as competitive as I would like.” Tadhg is a self-employed web designer but has applied for full-time work. Presently he trains six days a week for one and a half hours at a time with Theo Vestre, his coach.
Despite this he does not lose his smile and is keen to share his experiences. His advice to young swimmers is to set your goal. “Never dream too much. You must be grounded, and remember no pain no gain.” He implores young swimmers not to be lured by drugs to enhance their performance. “Please, whatever you do, don’t fall into this trap. Rather train hard. There is no point in winning if your medal is going to be taken away because of drugs.” Tadhg says it is important to focus on your event. “There is not really time to make friends with the other swimmers from the other countries. Also it is very competitive so you tend not to be friends, just peers.” When I ask him about 2008 China he shrugs laughingly, “We’ll see…”