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UEL swimming star Michael Gunning graduates with first in Early Childhood Studies

early childhood

Recent graduate has blazed a trail in the pool and the classroom

He is a rising star in international swimming in the UK and Jamaica with a number of awards to his name, but that did not stop Michael Gunning graduating from the University of East London (UEL) with a first-class honours degree in Early Childhood Studies this summer. 

His secret? A burning determination to succeed both in the pool and the classroom.

“Throughout my journey in swimming and academia, I’ve always been told that ‘it can’t be done’ or ‘you’ll never make it’,” he says. “Every day I give 110 per cent to prove all those people wrong.”

Michael says his degree course at UEL’s Cass School of Education and Communities has been really insightful and presented him with topics he had not thought about before. He also found it fascinating to hear other student’s viewpoints on many of the topics explored.

“All the lectures and staff were so helpful and made every assignment enjoyable and different in a unique way, and I actually learnt more from my peers than the textbooks themselves!” he says. 

Michael is one of very few men to enter the world of Early Childhood Studies, which has traditionally attracted a predominantly female cohort.

He says, “I really think men have an important role to play in children’s early development, but most importantly early education because all children need to have positive male role models in their life to look up to and engage and interact with. 

“I’m motivated to be a role model for those young children but also the other men that are considering studying and pursuing early childhood because together we can change the lives of others.”

Michael’s passion for swimming was nurtured at Beckenham Swimming club, south east London, and later at Stockport Metro Swimming Club. 

At the age of 16 he was already representing Great Britain at the Open Water Swimming Championships in Rome.

He recalls, “The Championships were at the same time as my GCSE exams, so British Swimming had to bring a tutor out with us so we could sit our exams at the same time as everyone in the UK.”

In 2016, he was the British Universities and Colleges (BUCS) 200 metres and 400 metres freestyle champion. He went on to represent Jamaica at the World Swimming Championships in Budapest in 2017 and set a national freestyle record. 

“I’ve have opportunities to represent Team GB and Jamaica, as my father is from Jamaica,” he says.

“Competing for a place at international level is very competitive, and I’d feel proud representing both countries. Right now, I’m aiming to be the Usain Bolt of swimming.” 

For some, graduation might mark a time to pause and celebrate, but for Michael it was a time to step up to prepare for the Central American and Caribbean Games.

And to top it off, he won Jamaica’s 2018 Aquatics Sportsman of the Year Award (pictured above with the award) and has already qualified for 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. 

He says, “Swimming has helped me inspire a generation of athletes worldwide and with my degree, I’d love to continue this with children’s education along with their sporting ambitions.

“In the future, I’d love to go into primary school teaching, as I love working with kids and seeing their progression.”