Paralympic champion Ellie Simmonds returns to the pool this weekend after taking a year out from the sport following the Rio Games. She joins a host of other British medallists and record holders at the National Para-Swimming Championships in Manchester.
More than 260 para-swimmers will take part in the short course event organised by the English Federation of Disability Sport in partnership with British Para-Swimming. Among the competitors, Paralympic medallists Eleanor Robinson, Jessica-Jane Applegate, Andrew Mullen, Thomas Hamer and Oliver Hynd. All eyes will be on crowd favourite Ellie Simmonds as she returns to competition following a year break.
Ellie’s career is well documented since she shot to fame at Beijing Paralympics 2008 as a 13 year old. There, she won two golds in the S6 100m and 400m Freestyle as the youngest team member.
Since Beijing, her life has been a whirlwind of appearances and tight training schedules. She won a further two golds at London 2012. Four years later in Rio, she took gold in the SM6 200m Individual Medley and bronze in the S6 400m Freestyle.
Ellie, now 23, made the decision to take a year out after the Rio Paralympics, to see the world. Like many elite athletes, since a child, her sport has dominated much of her life. So much so that she believed it to be the perfect time to take a career break and discover more about herself.
She recalls:“I just needed to get away. I’ve done so much over the years and been on the scene for so long. All I knew was swimming. People knew me as ‘Ellie Simonds, the swimmer’ and I needed to find myself.
“I wanted to see the world and not think about a daily routine. I went to many places on my own and it was great to be independent, even getting lost on my own! It was nice to wake up and think ‘what am I going to do today’ and do whatever I wanted to.”
Next year is a packed schedule for the elite para-swimmers with April’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, and the IPC European Championships in Dublin in August. Many at the Championships will have Tokyo 2020 in their sights too.
The thought has tempted Ellie back to her sport:“Earlier this year I was thinking about retirement but I wanted to give it another shot. Something clicked in me and even though it’s been a shock to wake up early again, if I don’t make the Europeans next year, at least I’ve given it a go.”
Choosing this event for her return is meaningful to Ellie:“I am really excited about the weekend. This event is always a lot of fun and it’s going to be amazing to see everyone I haven’t seen for a year.
“I’m all about developing the next generation. That’s why I like this event as it’s also for the younger ones. I’m not going to be here for much longer and that’s why we need to motivate young swimmers. It’s so important for the future of our sport.
“I remember competing as a junior and being so excited. I saw champions like Liz Johnson and was amazed by their talent. The youngsters this weekend get to mix with the team and be inspired.”
For many para-swimmers taking part it will be their first time at a national event and they will look to Ellie for inspiration. However, as an established swimmer, which swimmers will Ellie be keeping an eye on?
“Look out for Maisie Summers-Newton, who is also an S6 swimmer. Maisie is so incredible and especially in the 200m Individual Medley- she’s coming after me! I remember meeting her in Sheffield years ago, she asked for a photo and now she’s swimming with me. She’s definitely one to watch.”Ellie is now training with Nova Centurion in Nottingham. The club has produced a string of swimming stars, including double Paralympic champion, Oliver Hynd.
Spectators can buy tickets at the venue on the day. Details are as follows:
Event: National Para-Swimming Championships 2017
Venue: Manchester Aquatics Centre, 2 Booth St East, Manchester, M13 9SS
Dates: Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 December
Saturday: Session one- 9:00am – 12:30pm. Session two- 2:00- 5:00pm
Sunday: Session three- 9:00 am – 11:00am. Session four 2:00- 5:00pmPlease click the link to access the start lists and results. Follow the event conversation with the hashtag #ParaSwim2017