Great Britain middle-distance swimmer Lizzie Simmonds is preparing to break out of her comfort zone as she jumps into the saddle to cycle 100 miles for SportsAid at next month’s Prudential RideLondon. The two-time Olympian is an inexperienced cyclist but has decided to take on the challenge to give back to the charity and support young British sporting talent. She will join a team of more than 40 riders set to conquer the route through the closed streets of London and the green hills of Surrey.
Lizzie’s fundraising efforts have seen her inundated on social media after she advertised a charity kit give away to help generate donations for SportsAid. Over the years, she has accumulated thousands of items of official Great Britain and Team England kit which have been stored in her parents’ attic, and the auction led to her smashing past her £500 target and even beyond the £1,000 barrier. She is now planning on replicating the give away next time she visits her parents!
Here, Lizzie looks head to RideLondon, reflects on the success of the charity give away, and talks of the challenges she’s overcome to achieve so much in her sport....
How has your training been going so far for RideLondon?
“Training for RideLondon has been going well, although it’s very different to what I’m used to in the pool. As a middle-distance swimmer, I’m familiar with long training sessions, but they predominantly consist of short repeats with rest intervals in between. Now I’m having to get used to pedalling continuously for two to four hours on a bike! It’s also very strange to not be able to use my arms to assist when things get tough, like cycling up a massive hill! I’ve had a few little niggly injuries so still doing some pool work for general fitness, but I’ve mainly been enjoying being out on my bike – it’s nice to be training for something that gets me out into the countryside, instead of following the black line up and down a swimming pool!”
Are you a keen cyclist? What has motivated you to give RideLondon a go?
“I haven’t done much cycling in the past, though my boyfriend Tom is a keen cyclist, so we have done a handful of rides together over the last few years. We also tend to hire bikes when we go on holiday, so we’ve ridden some beautiful mountains in Italy and Slovenia. I was motivated to sign up for RideLondon because I’ve never ridden 100 miles before (or anything close to that) so I think it’ll be a huge challenge and an awesome way to see London!”
What made you decide to take on the challenge for SportsAid?
“SportAid helped me a lot during the early stages of my career, both with funding and general support, so it’s nice to be at a stage where I can give back to the charity. The world of elite sport can be a daunting place for a young developing athlete and I think there’s a huge push to nurture talented youngsters before they reach a funded pathway. I know from experience how critical it can be to have support from the right people, which is why I chose to sign up to the challenge and help SportsAid raise money for the future of British sport.”
Your fundraising activity has been highly impressive! Why did you decide to auction off your stock of official kit? And did you expect the incredible response you’ve had?!
“I decided to auction my kit on a bit of a whim, and also because my parents were getting sick of it all piling up in their attic! I had so much, after being on British teams for almost 15 years and, although a lot of it has sentimental value, it was just gathering dust in boxes at home. I thought that a few people might be interested in some of the items, for their own auctions, or just fancy dress outfits for their kids! When I put a note out on Twitter I was blown away by the response – I couldn’t keep up with the donations and requests. People were amazingly generous, and incredibly grateful for the kit I sent, and I covered all the postage and packaging costs myself so that things didn’t get too messy! It was a hectic couple of days, but all for a great cause – most of the kit has gone to swimming clubs who will re-auction it to raise their own funds. There is still loads of kit left, and I will do another auction when I’m next at my parents’ house!”
How proud are you of your career achievements? What have you seen as your biggest challenges along the way?
“I’m definitely proud of my achievements within sport. I’m incredibly lucky to have taken the sport I love to such a high level, including two Olympic Games and numerous medals from European, Commonwealth and World Championships. It’s awesome to now be in a position where I can inspire future generations of kids, both in and out of the pool. Like all athletes, I’ve had challenges along the way, including injuries, illnesses and missing team selections. In 2013 I lost my funding so for the last five years of my career I’ve had to be financially self-sufficient, which is tough when you’re in full-time training. On the flip side it’s taught me to be independent and disciplined with money, and I’ve had to proactively seek other opportunities to support myself and my career. I always try to see the challenges I face as opportunities for learning.”
There has been a lot of talk about transitioning out of sport in recent years. Have you considered your future career beyond swimming?
“I’ve thought quite a lot about my future beyond swimming and, although I don’t know exactly what I want to do long term, I do know that I want to stay involved with sport in some capacity. I’ve learnt a lot during an extensive career on the elite stage and feel it’s very much my duty to give back to the next generation, to use my knowledge and experiences to help guide younger athletes, as well as their parents and coaches. I’m setting up a mentoring programme at the moment which gives young developing athletes access to the advice and guidance of a more experienced world-class athlete. I’m also doing some work with schools, both in the UK and internationally, and find it very rewarding to be able to inspire others.”
What would you say to any Olympians and Paralympians considering giving back to SportsAid?
“It’s definitely important to support the future generations of sportsmen and women, and there are multiple ways in which you can do that as an influential senior athlete. Even something as simple as auctioning a few items of kit to raise awareness and funds can be massively beneficial for a young athlete who is struggling with equipment, training and competition costs. Every superstar has to start somewhere, and it should be a privilege to help the next generation realise their potential.”
You can help Lizzie support the future of British sport by donating to her fundraising page for SportsAid. Keep a close eye on her Twitter account – @LizzieSimmonds1 – for her next planned charity kit give away!