Recently, Ellie Challis became the World champion having won Gold in the SB2 50m Breaststroke at the World Championships in Madeira, and she also won Silver in the S3 50m Backstroke, 50m Freestyle and 100m Freestyle, which also saw Ellie achieve a World Record and personal best. Ellie was selected for the Great Britain team for her Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where she won Silver in the S3 50m Backstroke, and in 2019, she made her international debut at the World Championships in London, where, at just 15 years old, she won Bronze in the S3 50m Backstroke. In 2021, Ellie was nominated for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, and during her career, she has won numerous awards including in 2019 for SportsAid’s One to Watch, Active Essex Young Sports Personality of the Year, Swim England Talent Award and Amplifon Awards Overall Champion. Upcoming events for Ellie are the trials in Sheffield this year for the World Championships selection, the World Series and the World Para Swimming Championships in Manchester, and she trains at the National Performance Centre. Talking with Ellie, she told us about her time competing at the World Championships in Madeira, how it felt becoming the World champion in the SB2 50m Breaststroke and her Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
You recently competed at the World Championships in Madeira, how did you stay focused for your finals?
In between heats and finals I normally will eat lunch, have a nap, eat AGAIN and then head back to the pool! I don’t really have enough time to think about anything else so I find it pretty easy and I really enjoy racing.
How did it feel winning Gold in the SB2 50m Breaststroke and becoming the World champion?
I couldn’t believe it! It was a very stressful race as I ripped three suits and I was very thankful to even make the race. I don’t remember much of the race, it felt like it just started and finished straight away. It’s not normally an event open for my classification to swim, so I was just really excited to get the opportunity to race it on an international stage and to come away with a World Record, a Gold medal and a PB was more than I could ask for.
You also won Silver in the S3 50m Backstroke, 50m Freestyle and 100m Freestyle, what were these races like to compete in?
This is the busiest race schedule I’ve ever done at an international and it was very exhausting, but I love racing and to get all this experience leading up to Paris was a great opportunity for me. I did my first 50 Free in under 50 seconds, I did my first 100 Free in under one minute 50, which was all goals I was working towards. Mainly to get the chance to race in so many events for my classification is something we are not used to. I normally only have two events in my classification that I can race on the international stage, but Worlds was the first time I had six. This is a huge step forwards for the lower classes and, hopefully in the future, we will get to swim more than two events at a Paralympics.
What did you enjoy most about your time in Madeira and competing in your second World Championships?
One of the most enjoyable things about my time in Madeira and competing at my second World Championships was to have my family in the crowd for the first time in two years. For me, it makes a big difference just knowing that they are there to watch because I’m very close with my family!
You were selected for the Great Britain team at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games last year, do you remember how you felt finding out you’d be competing at your Paralympic debut?
When I found out, I was in bed and I got a text asking if I was available to call from our performance director Chris. Chris had never messaged me before so my heart was racing because I kind of had a feeling it might have been about Tokyo. So, I phoned Chris and he told me the news and I was so excited and just phoned my dad straight away to tell him. The thing is, when you get told that you’re going to the Paralympic Games, you get told over a month in advance to the announcement, so it is one of the hardest secrets to keep EVER!
How did you find the experience staying at the athletes village and competing at the Games?
I’ve always been told about the athletes village but you can never imagine in your head what it’s actually going to look and feel like. I didn’t expect it to feel like such a little village. There was everything – a phone shop, a gift shop, a shop to fix wheelchairs and a huge food hall. It was so fun to meet GB athletes from other sports and even athletes that I had watched when I went to watch London 2012. It was such a cool, uplifting environment to be in. I can’t wait to see what the village in Paris is going to look like!
What was it like coming away with the Silver medal in the S3 50m Backstroke?
Coming away from Tokyo with a Silver was something I never thought would happen and was such a big relief when I touched the wall. The thing is, with swimming, things change very quickly so you never know what to expect coming into a race. People have different tactics so they might have been going easier in the heat to save more energy for the final. The main thing is to focus on your race and just do the best you can. I think the best moment was to come home and be able to show my family that I’ve had a huge part of my career.
Can you tell us about your time at the ParalympicsGB Homecoming Concert?
I didn’t even know that the GB Homecoming Concert was a thing, but it was such a great event just to see everyone away from the Games and celebrating all the success that GB had achieved.
How did you prepare for both the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and the World Championships in Madeira, with both competitions being held during the pandemic?
Training for Tokyo was very different to training for the Madeira World Championships because a few months before we flew away for Tokyo, I needed surgery, so it slightly changed how my lead-up to the Games was going to look. Training for the Madeira World Championships was very different as I was coming off quite a long break after Tokyo. It was also very different because this was the first international where I was going to be able to swim more than two events, so I got to focus on swimming breaststroke a bit more than in the previous years, which is my favourite stroke!
You made your international debut at the 2019 World Championships in London, winning Bronze in the S3 50m Backstroke, what do you remember most from this competition?
This competition was a huge shock for me as I never expected to be selected, so to get a wildcard and to be taken for experience wasn’t even something I was thinking of. I was only 15 and had just got my international classification, I was completely oblivious to what was going on. I didn’t even know the competition I was at was trials for the World Championships. As I was a wildcard, there was no pressure for me to medal, the whole point of the competition was to gain experience for the future. I was just enjoying the whole experience, meeting all the athletes and just having fun. I never expected to come away with a medal. Celebrating with my family was surreal because it was such a huge shock to us all!
Can you tell us about some of your other stand-out highlights from your swimming career so far?
One of my favourite moments in my career was winning a Silver medal at the Tokyo Paralympics ten minutes after watching my best friend and roommate also win a Silver medal. It was nice to celebrate the success together as our families weren’t there to celebrate with us. It just made the moment ten times better.
Where does your love of swimming come from and how did you get into it?
I used to be quite scared of swimming without armbands and my dad really wanted me to learn to swim like my siblings, so when we went on holiday and I got older, he didn’t have to be with me and my friends and he could trust I knew how to swim. So my dad started teaching me how to swim and then I started swimming at a disabled swim club in Colchester called Colchester Phoenix. From there, I started doing a few local competitions and then got my classification and just found the love of racing and the social side of meeting so many new people.
What is a typical training day for you and how is it training at the National Performance Centre?
I do around six to eight swim sessions a week with three gym sessions and a bit of soft tissue when needed. Training at the National Performance Centre is very different to club training. The best part is everything is individualised. Every swimmer at the NPC has a different disability so all our programs are individual to us.
What was it like being nominated at the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year 2021?
It was such an honour to be shortlisted in the top three with two other amazing athletes. I never imagined to be up for this award, let alone in the top three. I am in such an early stage of my career, things are just getting started. BBC put on such a good evening for me and my family, it’s something we will always remember.
You’ve been nominated for and won numerous awards over your swimming career, can you tell us about some of them?
A few awards I have won over the past couple of years have been SportsAid’s One To Watch Award 2019, Active Essex Young Sports Personality of the Year 2019, Swim England Talent Award 2019 and Amplifon Awards Overall Champion 2019. It honestly amazes me to get so much recognition from my swimming but I’m very thankful for it.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Away from swimming, I love to bake cakes and do a bit of snowboarding. Swimming does take up a lot of my time but if I can find the time to bake a cake or go have a snowboarding lesson then I do try to.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
Coming up this year is trials in Sheffield for the World Championships. We are most likely going to be racing at the Berlin World Series and, most exciting of all, the World Para Swimming Championships in Manchester! I’m very excited about it as it’s at home and all my family and friends can come and it’s also the pool I train in every day.
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