Were you surprised by your success at the last Paralympic games?
I have competed so far in two Paralympic Games; Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Before Beijing I only had about 7 weeks to train properly for the Paralympic Games in 2008, so I knew I would definitely swim better in 2012. I was very pleasantly surprised to win five medals and it is something I am extremely proud of! I still haven’t got that gold one yet though, so I am determined to keep on training.My aim is to compete in Rio in 2016 and get that elusive gold!!
What are your aims for the next Paralympic games?
My main aims for any competition are to enjoy the event and to swim as well as I can thus hopefully producing personal best (PB) times. To truly realise my dream I would love to get a gold medal which would be amazing. You have to aim high to achieve the best you can and I have been training very hard since the London Paralympic Games, so I feel this is a realistic achievement for me.
How did you find the strength to carry on after being diagnosed with MS?
To be honest, I didn’t have much of a choice at the start. My parents got divorced at the same time as my diagnosis of MS. I felt that I had to keep the pain of my loss to myself so that I didn’t upset my family too much as they were obviously all hurting too. I cried in my room with my little Yorkshire terrier a lot; and as uncontrollable emotions are a symptom of MS,I sometimes just burst out laughing or crying which always ended up in me sobbing for hours. I tried to hide my symptoms from my family, especially the pain I experienced in my left arm and hand, but sometimes it gets to unbearable levels and I burst into tears looking for any kind of help. After a short while I realised that sometimes you have to deal with what’s in front of you or you have to deal with the cards you have been dealt. I now see MS not as my enemy but instead as my friend. As long as I treat my friend well and listen to it when it says I am tired, the MS will treat me well.
How did your family feel when you tried to get back into the pool?
It wasn’t easy for them at all. I guess to see me so differently compared to the person I was before was hard. My Mum couldn’t bear to watch me swim because it upset her so much to see the effects of the tiredness after, so I had to do the hard work without her at the start. My Mum is now an incredible support and comes to the Paralympics to shout for me, or calls me when I am racing somewhere. My husband Adrian has always been a huge support for me too which is brilliant!
How has your success helped you to help others?
The success that I have achieved has helped me to help others in many ways. Recognition– People recognise me and ask for my signature and a photo. I feel so honoured by this! I love trying to inspire them further. Swimming– The other swimmers in my swimming squad especially see me as an inspiration, and they try to copy my strokes or my turn technique. The GB swimming hat that I wear at competitions and during training is something that other swimmers can dream about. The other swimmers also listen to what I talk about whilst training to see if something I mention would help them achieve their goals too. My Story– People are impressed with my life story and what I have achieved, and this inspires people to never give up on their dreams! Media– The local radio stations and newspapers are very keen to promote everything that I do to try to inspire other people to follow in my footsteps.
What do you find is your biggest challenge with your MS?
My MS is quite challenging for me because of the symptoms that I experience every day. The worst symptom is fatigue which is a complete body tiredness that leaves me exhausted after doing very little. I do a lot of strength and conditioning work to try to control this. Another symptom I struggle with is my eyesight. My left eye jumps up and down and my right one jumps left to right which causes a dizzy sensation which makes seeing the wall and turns a difficult thing! My balance has been hit by getting MS which means that I need a helping hand to get onto the starting blocks. Another symptom I have is a problem with my co-ordination which means that sometimes I hit myself in the face by accident or I completely miss the cup I was trying to pick up, often knocking it over instead! I now always giggle about it but it is very frustrating!
For more information about myself you should read ‘Paying the Price’ as it walks you through my three lives.
Life one was the amazing life before getting sick where my hopes and dreams were sky high.
Life two was the onset of Multiple Sclerosis and it’s horrendous symptoms.
Life three was coming to terms with MS & belief that my dreams could still come true.