I was born missing my left leg from the knee and my left arm below the elbow. I also have a congenital deformity of my right foot, missing a toe and with a collapsed ankle, which often causes a lot of pain if I stand too long or walk too far. That has never stopped me being incredibly active though! Whilst my professional career as a Paralympic swimmer may now be over and I am enjoying my “retirement” from elite sport, I do still keep active and move as much as possible.
Swimming did change my life. What started as a hobby and something that I enjoyed around my job, actually turned into a career. That is why I call myself an “accidental athlete”. I never sat dreaming of Paralympic glory as a child, I just knew I loved to swim and move my body. Gradually, as I got older, that hobby and passion turned into a full-blown career, leading me to win 30 international medals, 17 Gold and one of those, a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. My specialism is the 50m Butterfly in the S7 class and I still hold that current Paralympic champion crown for one more year at least, though not for happy reasons, as the coronavirus has caused the most appalling and upsetting devastation for so many around the world. I was so sad to see the Games postponed and I do feel for all the athletes who put their heart and soul into training for Tokyo in 2020, only to see those dreams disappear. The important thing is everyone’s health and safety right now. I remember so well, even four years later, the nerves as I took to the blocks, my routine of preparation, so well-rehearsed that it became part of me and that feeling of electricity as you pose and hold yourself on the racing blocks, silence descending as you wait for the “Take Your Marks” call before the BEEP! It still brings chills back to me listening to certain songs I would use to “gear up” for a race. They were magical moments which forever stay in my memory.
For now though, those weekly 20 hour training sessions and 5am starts seem so long ago and now I am back to my “other” career! However, that desire to move stays with me and I still swim, but more in open water settings rather than just in swimming pools. I love nothing more than being in the ocean, I have done since I was a kid, watching Sir David Attenborough’s series on oceans and sharks. I often wished I could tell people I lost my limbs to a shark, because it sounded cool, although I am sure those who have had that happen may disagree with me! I do love being in the water still and now put my energy into less self-orientated pursuits through volunteering and supporting the Marine Conservation Society in the UK as an Ocean Ambassador. I am passionate about protecting the beauty in our oceans and seas and hope that in some way I can use my profile for good now that I am retired.
Having three different affected limbs can be hard sometimes, but I love testing the limits of my own body. I walk, swim (as mentioned) but also, I recently took up riding a tricycle. This came from a chance conversation with someone from Limbpower. They recommended I try cycling and although I had no idea if it was possible, there is no such thing as impossible as we all know! I may not be able to ride around on a standard bike, but the trike has given me a new hobby to pursue. In lockdown I use my hour a day to get out on the trike rather than swimming and there is a lovely thrill you get from feeling the wind rush at you as you go flying down a steep hill, watching nature go by! I would recommend any amputee to look into a trike, they really are brilliant and a great way to get moving and get your heart rate up. I do miss the pool though and I will be back in as soon as I can. I hope to watch the Games next year but for now, I am content to sit in the audience and cheer everyone on, or possibly just zoom by on my trike!