British swimmer Ellie Simmonds, 26, is taking part in her fourth consecutive Paralympics Games in Tokyo 2020, having made her debut at Beijing 2008 aged just 13 and picked up two golds in the 100m and 400m freestyle, an astonishing moment.
She repeated the feat at London 2012 and secured another gold at Rio 2016 in the 200m individual medley, also adding a silver and two bronzes over the course of that run.
In total, Simmonds has won 32 golds, 14 silvers and 16 bronzes from her Paralympic, World Championship, European Championship and World Cup exploits and has also been named BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2008 and awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2009, followed by an OBE in 2013.
She was born in Walsall on 11 November 1994 and diagnosed with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder associated with dwarfism.
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Today she is a patron of the Dwarf Sports Association UK, telling The Guardian in 2017 of its important role in empowering young people.
“It’s a charity that supports people of short stature and helps them get into sport,” she said. “One of the highlights of the year is the convention we have in the spring. There’s everything from powerlifting to athletics.”
Of her own disability, which sees her swim in the S6 category, Simmonds said: “I’ve never been bullied. I’m just small. I can do everything everyone else can do. If I wasn’t small I wouldn’t have gone to the Paralympics. My philosophy is that there is no point in being sad or hating who you are. I just embrace every day as it comes and try to live the best I can.”
Simmonds took up swimming at the age of five and joined Boldmere Swimming Club in Sutton Coldfield while she was at school in Aldridge but she and her mother would later relocate to Swansea when she was 11 to take advantage of the city’s swimming facilities to further her training.
Since then, she has rarely looked back, enjoying her fame, supporting organisations like WaterAid and the Girl Guides and taking the opportunity to travel the world (“I’ve swum with dolphins in Mozambique and with bull sharks off Mexico. They didn’t tell me how dangerous the sharks were until after I got out”).
Simmonds has already been seen at the Games as a ParalympicsGB flagbearer alongside archer John Stubbs during Tuesday’s opening ceremony before her heats began in the 200m medley on Thursday in which Simmonds finished fifth and commented: “I was super relaxed and not feeling the nerves and just wanted to enjoy it. I am happy for Maisie [Summers-Newton, who won], it’s amazing.”
“It makes it so competitive at home so it’s good, we push each other and Maisie is now leading the way.”
She will next be in the pool for the 100m breaststroke on Saturday 28 August.
Ahead of the Tokyo Games, she admits she is more aware of what’s at stake than ever before.
“As an older woman now, I feel the pressure more, I feel all those different aspects, I’m more aware of that,” Simmons has said.
“Whereas as a 13-year-old, as a 17-year-old, you just do swimming, you’re just doing it as sport where you don’t really think of all the outside bits.
“I’m more aware of those types of challenges now and I work with the psychologist really well.
“For me, these Games are just about going out there, racing, enjoying it, doing the best I can and just being happy and soaking it all in.”
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