London 2012 Paralympic Champion Josef Craig has announced his retirement from Para-Swimming after a career that saw him compete and achieve on the very highest stage.
Craig started swimming with South Tyneside Swimming Club aged nine years old and it simply snowballed from there.
His first international medal was the gold he won in front of a 17,000-strong crowd at London 2012.
Craig was awarded an MBE for services to swimming and sport following his achievements at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“The proudest moment in my career was most definitely being awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace and by the Queen herself,” explained the self-confessed royalist.
His most successful season followed in 2013 with a duo of golds accompanied by a silver at the World Para Swimming World Championships in Montreal.
Josef was then reclassified in the early part of 2014, this saw him move up from the S7 class to S8. He then returned to competition in that same year and continued to reach the podium with more medals at the European Championships in Eindhoven.
He qualified for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and went on to win bronze in the 100m Freestyle, the first person to win medals at consecutive Games after being reclassified.
The North East-based athlete firmly believes he has achieved everything that he hoped for within para-swimming and wants to step away on a high.
“My reclassification a few years ago played no part in my decision to retire, for me it’s time for a new challenge and I know that if I apply myself in the same way I did to swimming and give it 110% then I know I will be successful.”
Craig has been open about struggling with his mental health in the run up to the Rio Games, he faced anxiety, bipolar and depression whilst continuing to train and compete.
“I went through a lot and for a long time, I now want to use the platform and influence I have to help those facing mental issues. I want to use my journey as evidence that it is possible to turn things around no matter how bad a situation may appear.
“Tyson Fury, an idol of mine, also faced his own battles so to see him come through that and return to the top of his sport gave me the understanding to know that I could overcome anything – I am eternally grateful to the support he and his family gave me.
“I have to also thank Chris Furber [British Para-Swimming Performance Director] for the help and support that he personally gave me.”
Reflecting on those that have been part of his successful competitive career, he said, “Many people have worked with me, supported me and featured in my journey and I will be forever grateful but a couple of names truly stand out in my mind.
“My very first coach at Tyneside Swimming Club, Dot Houston, she instilled the confidence and belief in me to know that I could achieve something in swimming.
“Ken Nesworthy was part of the journey since day one and almost became like a second dad to me, our work together culminated with the gold medal in London. I saw him in the crowd in the aquatics centre and that was truly special. I started my career with Ken and I eventually finished it with him.
“Finally my mum and dad, they were always there for me, never questioned anything, supported me through thick and thin, and just wanted me to be happy.”
Josef now hopes to make a return to education and is planning to complete a foundation year studying Sports Management at Northumbria University.
Additionally, Craig is making a return to the pool where it all started for him but in a different capacity, teaching and coaching the potential stars of the future.
“I want to pass on my knowledge that I’ve picked up in the pool over the years,” he said, adding, “To be able to help individuals gain an important life skill and also go on to achieve will be really rewarding. I’ve had lots of experience under a variety of coaches and learnt how to and how not to coach people – I hope to be the right blend.”
Commenting on Craig’s decision to step away from the elite level of sport, British Para-Swimming National Performance Director Chris Furber said, “For many, the crowning achievement of Josef’s career might be his Paralympic Gold and the subsequent BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award in 2012.
“However for me the story behind his 100m Freestyle bronze at the Rio Games in 2016 is far more inspiring. It shows the resilience and determination of this outstanding talent.
“Following reclassification in 2014, Josef had to show great powers of commitment in the face of a huge uphill struggle to get back to the Paralympic podium in 2016 and this for me truly demonstrates his world class mind-set.
“We will miss Josef being part of our programme but we know he will be successful in whatever he does next and wish him all the very best.”