Five-time Paralympic Champion and fourteen-time World Champion Ellie Simmonds credited her new more balanced lifestyle as the reason she is still in love with swimming after previously considering leaving the sport. Speaking at the Sport Industry Private Dining Club, Simmonds spoke candidly to the senior industry figures in attendance about the pressures of being a professional athlete.
The 24-year-old said: “I was going through quite a dark time leading up to Rio, mentally I was in a really low place and not doing really well at all. I was really struggling so I really surprised myself to get a gold medal in Rio when I was thinking of leaving the sport.
Simmonds did feel that duty of care for athletes was improving all the time but there is still work to be done, saying: “I think it’s getting a lot better, I think the awareness is out there but some people don’t have people they can talk to and there still needs to be more done so people can talk about their mental health. It’s okay to not be okay. Some days you wake up not feeling great and that’s alright.”
Simmonds charmed the room with entertaining stories about her year travelling when she took a break after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, describing it as “the most amazing year of my life”. Amongst the highlights, such as free diving with sharks, Simmonds also shared some memorable moments that included accidentally joining a political protest in America and being robbed in China but none of this put her off the experience.
“I would recommend for anyone to go travelling. I love travelling on my own, you get to meet so many amazing people. I was not Ellie the swimmer, I was Ellie a human being. I was free, I was able to be that 21-year-old and it was really nice.”
Simmonds described her refreshed approach to life, explaining: “I’m trying get more of a balance in life. I think of it like a pie, so 25% of my life is swimming but then 25% is being a normal 24-year-old. Work and sponsors is 25% and the rest is just being me. So, if I can’t make a training session it’s not the end of the world.”
She described how much she enjoyed the variety of her life now, including the commercial work which often allowed her to try new experiences and meet a wide range of people. Two of Simmonds’ sponsors, Vitality and Sainsbury’s, were in the room, alongside senior figures from a range of organisations across the sector including the ATP, COPA90, CNN, Discovery, ECB, European Tour, MediaCom, NatWest, SRI, Two Circles, YouGov Sport and many more.
When asked about her position as a role model, she referenced Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson as her inspiration: “I was in awe of her and if people are inspired by me like that, well that’s absolutely incredible and amazing to be part of that. It’s a joy to be a part of that [Paralympic] movement and hopefully progress Paralympic sport even further.”
Questions turned to life after swimming, but Simmonds was uncertain of when she would hang up her goggles but she did have thoughts of what might come next: “After sport, I’d love to teach English abroad or be a primary school teacher but at the moment I’m just a swimmer who has wet hair all the time and smells of chlorine.”
For now, Simmonds confirmed the next milestone is the World Championships taking place in September at the London Aquatics Centre, now her home pool, before all focus turns to Tokyo 2020.
Sport Industry Private Dining Club is an invitation-only members club that meets four times a year at some of the best venues in London, providing top level representatives from across the sport industry with the opportunity to network and socialise in an informal and relaxed setting.