On February 5, 1996, Alex Bennett (winner of three Commonwealth team medals at the 1994 Victoria Games), was involved in a horrific car crash, one that not only ruined her Olympic aspirations but so nearly took her life.
Twelve months later she can look back with no animosity towards the driver of the car that put a halt to her plans and dreams. She does admit that "if he had been a drunk driver things would have been different. I would like to meet him and tell him I'm all right." She believes fate dealt her a bitter blow, not him!
After seven weeks in hospital and another three months in a wheelchair, Alex, a member of England's Commonwealth gold-medal 4x100 freestyle relay, was finally back on her feet and on her way to Atlanta, not as a competitor as she had dreamt but as a spectator. At first the thought filled her with fear, but once there she admits "I loved it and am really glad I went."
Back home in the autumn, it was off to University in Cardiff, where she was to study marine biology and train with Dave Haller in a 50-metre pool. But things did not work out--she found it difficult getting around. When other students would walk, Alex had to drive the car. The course was not really what she had expected, and while she enjoyed the days in the boat sailing around the coast, it was painful for her.
Alex had another operation in December, this time to remove the plates in her legs. She also decided to give up her degree course in Cardiff and apply for a law course at her local Nottingham University. Alex told me 18 months ago she wanted to train long course and felt that Sheffield was too near home. Now she was giving this idea up and hoping to attend university very near home!
I asked her whether this meant she was thinking of giving up swimming once at university. "Far from it!" Alex explained. "I've always got on with Bill Furness (her old coach). Not," she hastens to add, "that I didn't get on with Dave Haller. But Bill knows me. I will also live away from home but I am near enough to pop in for a meal or have my washing done!"
She wants to try and get back to peak swimming form again. After less than two weeks back in full training--five mornings and five evenings--she competed in the Great Britain Club Team Championships for Nova Centurion.
Alex travelled to the Stockport venue for the competition, believing she would compete in just the relays, but in the end she was entered in the 200 and 400 freestyle plus both freestyle relays. Her times of 2:08.55 and 4:27.09 for the individual races and 1:01.35 and 2:08.90 for the relays were not close to her best, but she was back with her friends doing something she enjoyed doing.
During her darkest days in hospital, Alex never contemplated giving up swimming and she admits, "I couldn't imagine my life without it."
Life is good for 20-year-old Alex now that she is back where she belongs, "in the swim." The only dark cloud on the horizon is that boyfriend A. J. Celham, who is currently playing for the Telford ice hockey team, will soon return home to Canada for the summer.