Ellie Simmonds: ‘I’ve never been bullied. I’m just small’

The champion swimmer, 22, on winning two gold medals at 13, finally meeting Michael Phelps and crying happy tears

My life changed at the Beijing Olympics. I was only 13, but I came away with two gold medals. I was so shocked and surprised to win. Later I won the Young Sports Personality of the Year and became the youngest person ever to get an MBE. To think that was only eight years ago… It feels like a lifetime.

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.

I don’t wear jewellery and I don’t care about shoes and dresses. But I love my handbags. They’re my real luxury.

I recently met Michael Phelps. He is my absolute idol. I was totally starstruck. I did manage to get a few words out. We talked about what we were going to be doing for Christmas.

I’ve got my own house now. But I’m a bit OCD and way too organised. I like everything to be very particular and clean. My friends are always telling me to just relax.

I get recognised in the street, which I love. I never get asked for autographs, though, these days it’s always selfies. I like that. I’m very sociable so I’m always happy to meet people.

I love the ocean and I’m passionate about conservation and the environment. 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.

My drive and ambition is purely down to me. My parents gave me opportunities, but they never pushed me. I am very self-driven and always want to be the best at what I do. I’m the youngest of five children and none of the others are like me.

I’m a patron of the Dwarf Sports Association. It’s a charity that supports people of short stature and helps them get into sport. One of the highlights of the year is the convention we have in the spring. There’s everything from power lifting to athletics. Mum organises the swimming.

I very rarely cry. But I am terrible with happy tears. After a swimming event I normally cry on the podium and then in the interview, too. I suppose it shows that I am an emotional woman.

In 2014 I started working with WaterAid. It is brilliant to see how a well can do so much for a family. I went to a village near Kampala in Uganda and the kids were having a whale of a time. Yet all they had to play with was this empty plastic bottle. It brought home to me how fortunate I am.

The call room, where we sit before coming out to the pool, is a very scary place. It’s just you and the other competitors. I don’t try to psyche them out, but I do wish them good luck – and I think that can be quite disarming.

I’m a Brownie leader with the Girl Guides in Manchester. My pack name is Aqua Owl.

Ellie Simmonds is a WaterAid ambassador. She also appears in the charity’s new Made of the Same Stuff campaign (wateraid.org)


Martin Love

The GuardianTramp

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