Gold Medal Motivation: A Q&A with Ellie Simmonds
The youngest recipient of an MBE, Ellie Simmonds is an inspirational five-time Paralympic swimming champion. Since her meteoric rise into the public eye, she has dominated her sport, winning 13 World titles and 10 European titles, while breaking various World records along the way. Incredible!
We caught up to chat about where it all started, her favourite memories, her biggest form of motivation and what's on the horizon.
Like most children, you started swimming at quite a young age. How did your love of swimming develop, and at what point did you realise that this was a career that you wanted to pursue?
I’ve loved swimming as long as I can remember. My parents were very keen on me trying all sports as a youngster – probably as I couldn’t keep still – and as such I was always trying new things. I loved horse riding and gymnastics, but swimming was something that kind of just clicked. There’s an old home video my dad recorded, where I’m just a toddler doing widths in the pool, and someone off camera says how comfortable I looked, and that’s kind of how it was. I just loved it. But it wasn’t until I was watching the Athens Paralympics in 2004 and I saw Nyree Lewis (now Kindred) winning gold in the S6 100m backstroke that something else clicked in my mind. It never occurred to me I could swim as a career, so I asked my mum how old you have to be to swim at a Paralympics. I was 9 years old at the time, but my mum said, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’. It was then I decided I wanted to swim for my country and win medals like Nyree. If you’d told me then that I’d be competing in Beijing four years later I would have laughed!
You have achieved some incredible milestones in your career, what are some of your most memorable moments?
London 2012 will take some beating, that’s for sure. The whole country was just transfixed by both the Olympics and the Paralympics, and the support we received from the British public was just incredible. I remember singing the national anthem after my 400m event and looking up at thousands and thousands of people, thinking ‘wow. Just wow’. I felt a huge amount of pressure going into the Games, as I was on posters around the city and because I’d won two golds in Beijing, there was an assumption I’d do it again. My biggest fear was letting everyone down. So the utter relief and joy afterwards is hard to put into words.
What is your biggest form of motivation, and what do you do to get through the tough days?
It’s picturing the great times; the times on top of the podium, the times away at Paralympic Games in the athlete village, or the feeling of having a wonderful session. Of course every day won’t be great, and there are numerous days when my alarm goes off at 4.47am and I think how I’d prefer to just roll over and close my eyes again, but ultimately I remind myself how good I’ll feel after that session, and just as pertinently, how guilty I’ll feel if I miss it. I know my competitors won’t be taking days off, so there’s no way I can. I also set myself both short and long term goals. There’s always something I’m working towards and that keeps me motivated at times when I’m having a bit of a wobble or otherwise.
If there is one message that people could take away from your story, what would it be?
I’d like people to know that if you really want something, only you can stop yourself from achieving it. When mum told me there was no minimum age to swim for my country, that became my goal and everything I did was centred around getting there. I’m very lucky to be involved in Paralympic sport as I’m continually surrounded by remarkable and inspirational stories, not only of overcoming adversity, but also of indescribable determination and talent.
What’s next for you?
Today? More training! But more long term, Tokyo is fast approaching and my long term goal is to be there. But I know just how fast the sport is moving and if you stand still for a second, you get overtaken. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun. The challenge of knowing you have to be your best to even qualify, let alone podium, is what’s always driven me, and the older I get, nothing changes.
Thank you for taking the time to chat to us Ellie - we will all be cheering you on in Tokyo in 2020!
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