Having retired from swimming in 2018, James Hollis made his return to international competitions recently having competed at the World Championships in Madeira earlier this year. James made his Commonwealth Games debut at the beginning of August in Birmingham, winning the Bronze medal in the S10 100m Butterfly race for Team England at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre, and he was part of the Queen’s Baton Relay in July. Having made his international debut for Great Britain at the 2011 European Championships in Berlin, the following year, James made his Paralympic debut at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and was working behind the scenes at Tokyo 2020 with the British Paralympic Association. During his time as a swimmer, James has also competed for Loughborough University at BUCS, setting a World Record in the S10 200m Butterfly. We chatted to James about competing at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, winning the Bronze medal in the S10 100m Butterfly race and his return from retirement.
What was it like making your Commonwealth Games debut this summer and what did you enjoy most about representing Team England in Birmingham?
Being able to swim for Team England at a home games was an unbelievable experience, the crowd and venue were fantastic and being part of a mixed Paralympic and able-bodied team for the first time meant I could train and race with athletes I haven’t had the opportunity to do before. My favourite part of the whole experience was being able to hear the crowd get louder in the last 10m of my race and feeling them push me forward to getting a medal.
How did you feel being announced to represent Team England and how was it racing at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre?
Sandwell is a great venue and I hope I get to race there again soon! Being announced as part of the team was a proud moment for me and brought back memories of being part of the team for 2012. All the athletes from so many sports makes you feel part of something so much bigger than just a race or competition.
You won the Bronze medal in the 100m Butterfly S10, how did it feel standing on the podium collecting your first individual medal and what was the race like to compete in?
I couldn’t stop smiling! It’s something I have dreamt about my entire career and to do it in front of home fans, but most importantly my friends and family, made the whole experience even more special.
How was it staying in the athletes village and attending the opening/closing ceremonies, and do you have any stand-out highlights from your first Commonwealth Games that you can share?
The athletes village is a bit of a weird place, it’s such a celebration and fun environment with athletes from many sports and lots of nations. There is a lot to take in and experience but can also be challenging when you also need to stay focused on the job you are there to do. For me, the highlight was the food, as there was so many options from different food trucks but also several large dining halls serving cuisine from all over the world.
We understand you took part in the Queen’s Baton Relay in July, can you tell us about this and what was it like to do?
The Baton Relay was a great day, to celebrate what sport means to the community but also the power that Paralympic sport has to change the world for people with impairments was a very special opportunity for me. To share the carrying of the baton with some wonderful and incredible people is something that I will never forget.
How did you find the experience competing at the World Championships earlier this year and what was the atmosphere like at the event?
The World Championships in Madeira was a great chance for me to test myself with the best in the world so I could better prepare for the Commonwealth Games. I absolutely love racing and challenging myself against the best and the World Championships are the place to do that. I learnt so much about my preparation that I can use going forward. We also had the opportunity to race in relays, which is always a lot of fun.
How did you prepare for both the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games and can you tell us about your training?
My training for the year was split into three main sections. One where I was aiming to qualify for these competitions, one preparing for World Champs and one transitioning from World Champs to the Commonwealth Games. Each had a slightly different focus but usually consisted of seven swimming sessions, three gym sessions. As a sprinter, I spend a lot of my time preparing to and trying to swim as fast as possible so I will do a lot of dives and short distance sprints.
Having retired from swimming in 2018, what has it been like returning to the sport and getting back to competing professionally?
It has been really exciting! I have had to work alongside training this year, which was a challenge I did not have before 2018, but has also enabled me to apply a different mindset to my swimming. I am now far more reflective and able to see the bigger picture.
What have you been enjoying most so far about returning to a swimming lifestyle and was there anything you missed most about the sport after retirement?
I did not miss the morning sessions at 5:15!!! I have enjoyed most being competitive and racing. I love to race and do as well as I can and swimming was always the outlet for my competitive spirit.
How do you feel your outlook on training and competitions has changed since coming back from retirement and can you tell us about your decision to return to swimming?
Having had the opportunity to work in sport, from coaching to being part of the team at the British Paralympic Association for Tokyo 2020, gave me a unique insight into the ‘other side’ and what goes on to help athletes be successful that the athlete may never see. This just enabled me to make better decisions around my own training, see the bigger picture when training sessions don’t go to plan and be more reflective and organised in my planning.
10 years ago, you competed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, what do you remember from being selected for the team and competing in your races?
My memories of 2012 and everything that went with it was one of my main motivating factors to come back to race in front of a home crowd again. There were many things this time around that were very similar to 2012 and the support from the nation is something I will never forget.
What are some of your favourite memories from your Paralympic debut in 2012 and competing in front of a London crowd?
My favourite memory from 2012 was racing on the last day of competition in the relay. When the GB team walked out, 17,000 people in unison chanted ‘GO GB. GO GB. GO GB’. The hairs on my arms still stand on end thinking about it.
Can you tell us about some of your other highlights through your swimming career over the years, which have included your international debut for Great Britain at the 2011 European Championships in Berlin?
I have been very lucky in my career to swim in some amazing places, and seeing these wonderful cities and cultures has been a highlight for me. Another highlight would be my first World Record which I set when competing for Loughborough University at BUCS in the S10 200m Butterfly.
Where does your love of swimming come from and was it something you always wanted to do professionally?
I swam from a young age as it was the safest sport for me to compete in whilst having brittle bones. It soon gave me an outlet for my competitive spirit and my love for the sport grew from there.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy anything outdoors and have recently taken to a bit of gardening and growing my vegetables!
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