WEST Dorset Warriors used the opportunity of a test event gala at the new six-lane pool at Dorchester Sports Club to celebrate head coach Janet Hewitt reaching 50 years in swimming coaching at local, regional and national level.

The Warriors arranged the gala without Hewitt’s knowledge and she was completely taken aback when she turned up at the pool to be greeted by both past and present swimmers and parents who she has trained over many years.

Hewitt entered the swimming club to all-round applause, which lasted for about two minutes as everyone showed their appreciation for her efforts, and then probably for the first time she was able to sit and watch a West Dorset Warriors gala which she had not organised.

The gala involved six teams, each with a mixture of current swimmers from minnows to main squad and past swimmers, the latter of which included many members who achieved national competition standard and parents of current swimmers.

Competition was of a high standard with all swimmers enjoying the event, including many younger members who experienced a gala of this size for the first time.

After the gala, all swimmers and guests were able to meet old friends and recall past and present swimming experiences, with John Masters president of South West Regional ASA providing an in-depth speech into Hewitt’s past glories over the previous 25 years.

Funds were raised on the day for her chosen charity, the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.

Hewitt started swimming with Bournemouth Dolphins and on leaving school joined the RAF where she swam competitively, representing the RAF. During the same period, she taught swimming to the forces.

In the early 1990s, while teaching and running Natterjacks in Dorchester to help young, weak, non-swimmers, along with a colleague Alex Lawrence, she set up West Dorset Warriors as a competitive swimming club.

The club started with approximately 60 swimmers and gained affiliation to the Amateur Swimming Association in 1992.

In their first season in Speedo League Division Three, they won the title and achieved promotion. Elevation to Division One followed, including near-misses in an attempt to reach the top-flight.

During her long swimming career, Hewitt has been supported by her husband of more than 40 years, David, who has also contributed significantly to swimming in the local area for many years.

Hewitt’s dedication to the Warriors, which at one stage involved 60 hours per week, all on a voluntary basis, has gained her respect from many of her peers and colleagues within British Swimming and inspired generations of swimmers to attain their best performances.

In her 50 years as a coach, Hewitt has produced a swimmer who has participated in and won a Paralympic medal and deaf European medallists, together with over seven swimmers who have represented Great Britain and many National swimmers.

A few years ago, the Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain invited Hewitt to take the prestigious Australian Classifier’s course which she attended at the Manchester Aquatics Centre and Ponds Forge Sheffield, and was one of only six coaches in the country to be chosen.

She also has British Swimming’s acknowledgement of her coaching skills with the disabled where she has worked very hard with children who have disabilities and ensures they are included within the West Dorset Warriors’ club training.

A club spokesman said: “All current and past members of West Dorset Warriors and Natterjacks have a lot to thank Janet for in enabling them to get the best out of their swimming ability and to experience the wider opportunities available through swimming, such as open water swimming, water polo, synchronised swimming and life-guarding.

“Janet has been a major force over the last 25 years in initially bringing the current four-lane pool to Thomas Hardye Leisure Centre and the new six-lane pool at Dorchester Sports Centre, which is opening later this year.”

Only days later, Hewitt attended a regional dinner in Teignmouth to receive an ASA award in recognition of her long service and dedication to swimming.