NAMBUCCA Valley's next big thing Declan Sutton is experiencing the crazy highs and frustrations of life in the fast lane of elite swimming.
He's just back from Sydney where he shared the pool with some of the world's finest at the 2020 NSW State Open - the forerunner for many to the Australian Championships and the Olympic trials.
And this morning the towering teen should be blowing out the candles to celebrate his coming of age 18th.
But the traditional birthday plans of a milestone age will be put on ice by the limitations for gatherings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So too have some of Declan's immediate swimming plans.
At the State Open, Declan was one of the stars of the Swimming North Coast area.
A highlight was making the B final in his pet event - the 50m back, while the Valley weapon posted a personal best (PB) time in the 50 fly.
To give you an inkling of the standard at Sydney - there were the likes of Kyle Chalmers and Emily Seebohm racing, as well as competitors from as far afield as Sweden and Japan.
Mitch Larkin was supposed to grace the blocks too - but pulled out just as the coronovirus threat started getting very real in Australia.
"It was the weekend that everything started shutting down so it was a bit of a downer for the swimmers," Declan's mum, Lyndel, explained.
It was actually the third straight year Declan had achieved a qualifying time for the State Open, but the first time he had attended, as he felt he was too young in 2018 and '19 to pit himself the best of the best.
Nambucca youngster Leah Pickvance also qualified for this year's State Open, but elected not to take up the option, with similar thoughts and many years of top level competition ahead of her.
Watch Declan fly at the State Open - against mostly older competitors:
Declan's results at State included: 18th B final 50 back, 61st 100 free, 30th 50 fly, 34th 200 back, 35th 100 fly, 38th 50 free, and 32nd 100 back.
From the Nambucca Heads swimming club, Rikki Byrne, 17 years, finished 60th 50 fly, 82nd 100 breast, 59th 100 fly, and 54th 50 breast.
Rikki's clubmate Amos Colburn, 22 years, placed 27th in the 50 free and 45th in the 100 fly, and 26th in the 50 fly.
Declan had been chasing a spot in the Australian Championships in Perth in April and potentially the Olympic Trials but both have been nailed by the coronovirus.
So too has he had to forego an exceptional opportunity to train and compete for two weeks at a university in California in July.
But the freshly minted 18-year-old is counting his blessings along with everything else.
"It (State) was a really good experience. It was exciting to have all of the professional coaches on the pool deck," Declan told the Guardian.
While the pandemic has forced the closure of the Macksville pool, the Year 12 student is doing his darndest to maintain fitness and form.
"I've been doing dry land exercises which Swimming Australia put out. And I get to sleep in - yeah, it's sooo good," Declan said.
In a broader sense, Lyndel conceded the coronovirus threat was a setback for the Macksville Marlins swimming club, as it is for almost all sports and every sector of society.
"Without a heated pool we don't start training until October - and the water's cold - so we're behind everyone else," she said.
"Then it's a matter of getting the Ks (kilometres) into them - so our Marlins would normally start peaking now, just when it's all over."
In a bid to lift the spirits of the young charges, Lyndel has been profiling the athletes on the club's Facebook page - to remind them of their season achievements.
"This should be their time to shine. When you think of all those mornings they've been heading to training at 5.30 in the dark. It's a high maintenance sport."