Para swimming prodigy Ellie Challis recently announced herself on the international stage as she claimed a bronze medal in the S3 50m backstroke at the IPC World Para Swimming Championships in London. The 15-year-old, who is currently supported by the Backing The Best programme, competed in a range of classifications - finishing fifth in the SB3 50m breaststroke, eighth in the SM4 150m individual medley and 10th in the SM5 50m butterfly.
Ellie, who has a twin sister called Sophie, is a quadruple amputee. She lost both her hands and lower legs after contracting meningitis aged just 16 months. She first took up swimming as she wanted to be safe around water due to living near the coast - Clacton, Walton and Frinton are the local beaches she visits. She swims at the Colchester Phoenix Amateur Swimming Club and became competitive in the sport after she started attending galas.
Ellie’s sporting hero is Ellie Simmonds, also a previous recipient of support from SportsAid, while she considers her dad Paul to be the most influential person in her life as he takes her to all of her events and ‘encourages me to do my best at all times’. Her results at the World Championships followed a highly impressive showing at the British Para Swimming International Meet in Glasgow where she won one gold and three silver medals in April.
Here, Ellie reflects on her recent successes, highlights the key achievements of her career so far and talks about her aims for the future...
How did you feel after winning bronze at the IPC World Para Swimming Championships?
“After winning bronze at the World Para Swimming Allianz Championships I was really shocked as I went for the experience and the medal just topped the whole week off. I didn’t go in with any expectations of a medal. However, the medal made the experience even better. I wasn’t feeling any pressure as I was new to the international scene and just excited to make my debut.”
How pleased were you with your performances overall? Did you feel all of the races went how you'd have liked them to?
“Overall I was really pleased with my performance. My first race didn’t go as good as I hoped it would but my performance got better as my week went on. I felt that some of my races went how I liked them to, however one or two of the races could have gone better. There are still improvements for all of my races.”
How much did you take away from competing at an international meet with the Great Britain set-up?
“I took a lot from competing for GB at the international meet as it was my first time and it give me a bit of experience for the year to come. After finishing the week I realised how much support I have from my family, friends and all the staff behind GB who were absolutely incredible. I seeked a lot of advice from the more experienced athletes on the team and my room-mate Louise [Fiddes].”
What have been the key achievements in your career up to now? And what are your main aims for the year ahead?
“My key achievements, aside from the World Championships, were the British Para Swimming International Meet in Glasgow this year, where I got to do my first race against people and set one world record, two European records and multiple British records. My main aims for the year ahead are to just carry on what I have been doing and Tokyo 2020.”
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
“The biggest challenge I have had to overcome in my life so far is learning how to swim as it took a couple of years. I finally pushed myself and believed in myself after seeing another four limb amputee like myself.”
Which experiences in your life have you learnt the most from up to now?
“In my career the biggest experience I have learnt from is the World Championships. It has taught me how it feels to compete in front of a big crowd, not to focus on what competition I am there for - just to focus on my race - and what it’s like to compete for GB.”
What difference has SportsAid and Backing The Best support made to you?
“SportsAid and Backing The Best has been such a big support as it helps fund me to travel up and down the country, multiple times a year, to compete in competitions. I also very much enjoyed the workshop I attended.”
Which other commitments do you have to balance alongside swimming? How have you found fitting in school and sport together?
“I have found balancing school and swimming very easy as my school have been very supportive - even though swimming has taken me away from school. Away from swimming I like to do trampolining and snowboarding.”
Lastly, how important has the support of your family and coaching team been to you in pursuing your sporting ambitions?
“The support from my family, the coaches at my club and the GB staff has been incredible. It has helped me achieve what I have because I know there is a lot of people supporting me and they will help me with any problems I have.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Ellie can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future.