DEAN Mackay never had the chance to achieve his full potential as a swimmer until he had life-changing surgery.
The 22-year-old hails from the Hunter Swim Team and has been swimming for the better half of his young life.
However, it was not until he had ligaments removed from both shoulders in 2011 and 2012 that he began to aim high.
The Birmingham Gardens swimmer said the non-sport-related injuries were difficult to come back from but his recent success had made it all worth it.
In July he placed second in 200-metre butterfly at the NSW Open Swimming Championships - a stroke that was impossible for him to do before the start of the year.
"I was pretty happy," Mackay said.
"It was my first open state medal, which I worked really hard for."
Mackay trains with the Hunter Swim Team 10 sessions per week and goes to the gym regularly.
His ultimate goal is to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, which given the team's history that has produced a competitor for every Olympic Games since 1980, it could be possible.