With age comes wisdom and Ellie Simmonds insists she’s taking a more holistic approach to her fourth Paralympic Games.
The five-time swimming gold medallist will wave the British flag at Tuesday’s opening ceremony alongside archery’s John Stubbs, 13 years after she burst onto the scene with an unexpected Beijing double gold.
Simmonds, then just 13, became the face of British para sport and the golds have not stopped flowing since, with two more in London and another in Rio as well as eight at the World Championships.
But that level of success breeds pressure and Simmonds admits she’s struggled under the weight of expectation, almost retiring before the last Paralympics in Rio.
But now 26, she’s adjusted to cope with the demands placed on her and says she has a fresh perspective ahead of her attempt to win further gold in Tokyo.
“There are pros and cons as an older woman now,” she said. “I am thankful to have gone to four Games and in Beijing I was 13, a kid really. And when I look at 13-year-olds now, I think wow you’re young.
“I feel the pressure more now, I am more aware of that than as a 13-year-old or 17-year-old, when you just do swimming and don’t think about the outside bits.
“I am more aware of those types of challenges and I work with a psychologist really well. So, for me, these Games are about going out there, racing and focussing on being happy and enjoying it.
“I am just soaking it all in, it is a Paralympics at the end of the day, it only happens every four years.”
The opening ceremony kick starts 11 days of wall-to-wall sport and Channel 4 have scheduled an incredible 17.5 hours of coverage each day, with TV ratings set to smash previous records.
And Simmonds admits there has been a tangible change since her debut 13 years ago, in both attitude and knowledge.
“Before Beijing, people thought I was going to the special Olympics because the Paralympics was still under wraps, people didn’t know what it was about,” she said.
“Disabilities and especially the Paralympics were brought into hype at London 2012 and the Paralympic movement and disability has just creeped up and it is just amazing to see.
“We have seen a rise in that it is okay to be different in all forms. BLM and the acceptance of that, the change and the protest and the awareness there are so many different people out there.”
Waving the flag alongside her on Tuesday is Stubbs, the oldest member of the British Paralympic team at 56 who is targeting a second Paralympic gold in his fourth Games.
“I felt incredibly emotional when I was told the news,” he said.
“It’s been a torrid year – unfortunately I lost my dad in January. He was my biggest fan, and hopefully if he’s looking down on me, he’s there saying, ‘do it for the Stubbs family John, you’ve earned it and you deserve it’. I know my family will be as proud as punch.”
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