Academy Sponsors Super Mario
The Co-operative Academies Trust is to sponsor one of the region's young swimming stars so he can pursue his dream of Olympic glory.
Fourteen-year-old Mario Coman is so dedicated to the sport that he gets up at 5.45am each day to train before school lessons start.
The Co-operative Academy of Stoke-on-Trent pupil has already amassed a school bag full of medals from local, regional and national swimming competitions.
Now he has set his sights on representing Team GB, and hopes to be selected in time for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Mario, who lives in Tunstall, said: "I feel like I'm going to get there. I've got people helping me and believing in me."
The latest boost came after the Co-operative Academies Trust – which oversees the Tunstall school – heard about his talents and agreed to sponsor him.
Initially, he will receive £2,500 towards his training over the next year. If he continues to do well, the Co-operative Group will consider backing him in future years too.
Mario was recently picked to train with the England development squad. But he can't qualify for a Team GB camp until he turns 16.
In the meantime, he is trying to build up as much experience as he can. He spends up to three-and-a-half hours a day training before and after school, and also devotes his weekends to swimming.
Although born in Romania, Mario considers himself British and has lived in Stoke-on-Trent since he was 11 years old.
"The first thing I wanted to do when I arrived was to find a swimming club. I joined Cossack's in Fenton," he said.
"Although it would be much easier to get into the Romanian team, I want to represent Britain. This country has helped me such a lot."
Mario has been swimming since he was seven and entered his first competition a year later, winning bronze as part of a relay team.
The highest competition he has entered so far has been the National Summer Championships, where he came third in the 200-metre fly.
At his most recent tournament in Wigan, he swam in eight races and won three gold medals, three silver medals and a bronze.
Mario competes in different swimming disciplines, but counts the butterfly as his strongest stroke.
He said: "The sponsorship is really going to help. Swimming is an expensive sport. It can cost £7 every time you enter a race.
"Then there's the equipment, including paddles and goggles. The most expensive trunks are up to £240, although I wear normal ones. I also have a personal coach at the gym."
Teacher Susan Chilton, head of community at the Co-operative Academy, approached the academies trust with the sponsorship idea.
She said: "We are 100 per cent behind Mario. He is so committed.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he will succeed."