Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sea-Minus, but an A-Plus in the Pool

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sea-Minus, but an A-Plus in the Pool

Article excerpt

Byline: Henry Swarbrick

SHE was a double Paralympic champion in the pool at the age of 13, so you could be forgiven for thinking that Ellie Simmonds's natural habitat is the water, but she has a secret.

"I don't swim in the sea," Ellie confessed.

"We went on a camp in an island in Spain and we all swam over to it but I couldn't put my head under. I had to swim like a granny because I was scared that there were things in there.

"When you are in the pool you know you are safe but in the sea there can be sharks and I was scared. I had to hold onto one of the swimmers."

Born with achondroplasia -- a type of autosomal dominant genetic disorder that is a common cause of dwarfism -- Ellie swims in the S6 disability classification, with swimmers with physical disabilities being ranked from the most severe S1 to S10.

She was Britain's youngest athlete at the Beijing games in 2008 and returned from China a double Paralympic champion, to find that her hard-fought victory in the 100m freestyle final and her tearful post-race interview had won the hearts of a nation.

Nearly three years later -- and after winning BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year and becoming the youngest person to be honoured with an MBE -- Ellie is arguably Britain's most recognisable Paralympic athlete.

That is no mean feat considering the British team's haul of 42 golds left them second only to host nation China in the medal table.

But despite her unique achievements she is in many ways like any 16-year-old girl. She explains her obsession with shopping before giggling hysterically when I mention Justin Bieber.

"I don't know what it is about him, he just sends me crazy!" she says.

But when I move the conversation from the pop sensation and onto London 2012 a steely determination enters her eyes, which goes some way to explaining her success.

And despite achieving more in her brief career that most could hope to after a lifetime of toil, Ellie believes her two biggest accomplishments are to come.

"Going into Beijing, I was unknown really," she said.

"But now, people know who I am and they will be chasing me and wanting to steal that position off me. So winning in London would be an even bigger deal.

"I also hope what I achieve can show disabled people that they can achieve things in sport. Maybe not being a Paralympian but just get into sport.

"Sport is so important; it helps you with your daily life and your outlook. It helps you with confidence, but if you don't enjoy it you won't get anything out of it. My mum always said there was no point me swimming if I didn't enjoy it.

"It's great that people will be able to see us and understand disabled sport but I think we have a lot of pressure on ourselves this time. Going into Beijing there wasn't that much publicity on us. …

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