Having chlorine in their genes is all the fashion
Sunday 26 August 2012
Britain's Paralympic swimmers say "the chlorine gene" shaped their lives, and they are determined to bathe in London 2012 glory.
Gold-medal hopes have been boosted by people such as Ellie Simmonds and the potential of even younger team-mates inspired by Ellie in Beijing when she two gold medals aged just 13. Ellie is not alone in admitting she caught most of Team GB's London 2012 achievements on TV because she was determined not to miss out on her own preparations.
She said: "I was glued to the TV watching it all but training as well, because for me it is all about the Paralympics." Speaking at the team HQ in Manchester, she added: "It is going really well. It is so exciting being here with the whole team."
Being an "old hand" and competing in front of a home crowd will give her an edge, she said. "But I am not really thinking about medals. I am just going out there to do my best." The athletes have neither emphasised their disabilities nor sought to hide them, but for younger members it has been a test of nerves, because the Paralympics has never attracted such attention.
London will be Sascha Kindred's fifth Paralympics, and the media buzz is a far cry from his debut in Atlanta in 1996. Atlanta was the first Paralympics to get mass sponsorship. "But in Atlanta we only had a half-hour highlight show on the evening TV," he recalled. "Now the amount of press we have had has grown and grown and it's great. At the Royal Albert Hall launch I was sat next to Kate Middleton.
"We were talking about what music we listen to on our iPods and I was giving out a few polo tips."
Sascha and wife – fellow Paralympian gold medallist Nyree Lewis – have also had to face the challenge of parenthood in the countdown to the games. Daughter Ella is now aged 14 months but her father hopes she will not be too young to remember London 2012 and perhaps be inspired to compete herself.
He added: "It has been a juggling act but a very exciting one – and I think Ella has a bit of chlorine in her genes. I'm not thinking about what happens after London yet. I just love my sport, so getting the attention is a bonus. It helps my disability and it keeps me fit."
Team members have their own way of relaxing. One of the secrets of Jon Fox's record-breaking success is the Rubik's cube his grandmother gave him. He said: "It's great. There are millions of combinations and I take it everywhere with me. It has a few bumps and scratches but it is still going.
"When I am not relaxing before races with my cube I am listening to my iPod and I'm a big heavy-metal fan." It is all rib-tickling stuff, given the weighty debates these Paralympics have generated about equality and diversity.
But the athletes seem far less preoccupied with the controversies than do the general public. Only when pressed on the Royal Mail stamps fiasco is a veteran such as Claire Cashmore (mildly) stung: "It should be a level playing field, like the Olympics. Why shouldn't we get the same treatment?"
Younger Paralympians are simply bubbling over with the enthusiasm for the games or plain overawed. Amy Marren, just turned 14, is coming terms with seeing her face on buses for an adidas commercial, and being on the same team as Simmonds, whom she has idolised from the age of 10. While older members may fret how many gold medals they have left in them she is counting much more immediate blessings.
"I am really lucky I do not have that much homework. My swimming is my time out from all my school work usually," she said. Between school and swimming her life is all work and no play – but there will be time for socialising once the medals are handed out.
"My friends are all going on holiday and going out with each other but I can do all that when I get back – and I don't have time for a boyfriend," she added.
Hannah Russell, one the team's brightest hopes at 16, said: "I have only just finished my GCSEs and have got into the team at such a young age it is a dream come true."
She also has a gruelling schedule as a boarder at Gordon's in Surrey, rising at 5.30am daily so she can cram in a couple of hours' swimming before lessons at 9am. Then after the 5.30pm bell she is back in the water for another three hours' training. So what does she do to relax?
"I play the bagpipes because my dad's family is Scottish. I practise mainly at boarding school and only try to play them at home when the neighbours are not around."
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