For many, carrying the hopes of an entire colony of islands would feel more than a little burdensome but for Kara Hanlon, such a responsibility is a privilege she could never have imagined herself bearing.

Hanlon hails from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles and to say she’s blazing a trail would be an understatement.

The British Swimming Championships, which double as the Olympic trials for Paris 2024, begin today in London and over the course of the next six days, Hanlon will aim to make history by becoming the first-ever swimmer from the Western Isles to make it to an Olympic Games.

Such a prospect means the breaststroker has quite a weight upon her shoulders but rather than feel bogged down by such pressure, it’s immediately apparent upon speaking to the 26-year-old that she’s thrilled by the prospect of proving that islanders are just as capable of achieving great things as those from any other corner of Scotland.

“I’d be so proud to be the first from the islands to get to the Olympics,” Hanlon says. 

“I want to do it not just for me but for the islands too. It’d show that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you work hard and you’re dedicated to your sport, you can make it from anywhere. I’d love to tell that story.

“It does feel like there would be a wider meaning to me getting to the Olympics.

“Island culture can be quite closed off sometimes so to show that you can dream bigger than that is something I really hold onto.”

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Hanlon’s journey to this point has been far from orthodox.

Her early days of training were conducted in a 12.5m pool – a quarter of the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool – and any examples of islanders who had done what she was aspiring to were entirely absent from her day-to-day life.

Hanlon, who is now based in Edinburgh, initially become aware of the Olympics as an 11-year-old during the Beijing Games in 2008 but it then took years for her dream to become a realistic target.

“I remember watching Beijing 2008 and thinking it was so cool. Then during London 2012, I started thinking I really want to be a part of that,” she says.

“Over the years, though, the dream comes and goes and a few years ago, if you’d asked me if I thought I could ever get to an Olympics, I’d probably have said no. I just didn’t think I was good enough – I’m a very realistic person and I didn’t think I’d get good enough to be in with a chance.

“But over the past few years, that’s changed and it’s gone from having the dream of making it but thinking it probably wouldn’t happen to now having the chance right in front of me.”

Qualification for Paris 2024 is by no means a pipe-dream for Hanlon.

She goes into this week’s British trials as a two-time defending champion in the 100m breaststroke and although she’ll need to swim faster than she ever has to secure the GB’s Olympic qualifying standard, finding the half-a-second that’s required seems a far from insurmountable challenge for the Scottish record holder, particularly as she’s back on track following an injury-interrupted season last year.

The monumental importance of the next few days is not lost on Hanlon. 

Having missed out on selection for Tokyo 2020, she’s well aware of the cut-throat nature of British Swimming’s selection policy but she’s insistent that she will not become distracted by what is at stake over the coming week and instead, will focus, as much as is possible, on what she needs do in the water.

“It’s been a daily challenge putting what’s riding on these trials out of my head. Some days, I don’t think about Olympic qualification at all and other days, it’s quite heavy. So it’s about navigating those feelings - of course I’m going to feel nervous so it’s just about coping with those feelings.

“It does feel different being defending champion but at the same time, I know I can only control what I can control. If I can put my races together in the way I’ve been doing in training then hopefully I’ve got a good outcome coming my way,” she says

“I’m always going to put more pressure on myself than anyone else can ever put on me, especially when it comes to Olympic trials.

“But it’s definitely a weakness to think too much about actually getting to the Olympics. Over the next few days, I want to leave everything in the pool and use all the emotions to bring out the best in me.”

Other Scots in the hunt for British titles and selection for Paris 2024 this week are Olympic medallists, Duncan Scott and Kathleen Dawson, as well as Katie Shanahan, Lucy Hope and Keanna MacInnes.