Exclusive: Globetrotting Simmonds ready for return to action
‘Paralympic champion Ellie Simmonds’ is a description that has been used for close to a decade but ‘Ellie Simmonds: Intrepid traveller’ is perhaps more fitting this year.
From the outside looking in 2016 was business as usual for the celebrated athlete as she added another Paralympic gold to her collection and a bronze medal to boot.
But, for Simmonds, Rio 2016 was her third Paralympic Games – a journey that began as a 13-year-old at Beijing 2008 – and tiredness was setting in.
Thoughts of retirement crossed her mind as the curtain fell on last year’s Games and the motivation to start a new cycle wasn’t there.
“At the end of Rio I was tired, I was done,” said Simmonds. “I was ready to get away. Mentally it’s really draining and especially in Rio because in one of my events I didn’t swim very well.
“I thought it was just time to get away from the sport and be a normal 22-year-old. I think I was really in need of that and hopefully it will help me in my sport.
“I think if I’d ignored it and carried on full time in my training then I would have burned myself out.”
Instead of retiring Simmonds decided to take some time away from the notoriously gruelling routines of life as a professional swimmer and see the world.
From swimming with sharks in South Africa to having her money stolen in China and camping next to Ayres Rock in the outback of Australia, it’s been a very different year than Simmonds is used to.
“I felt like everything had gone so quickly and I needed a year to find myself and figure things out and get away from the sport,” she added.
“I think travelling on your own and meeting new people gives you a lot more confidence and experiencing new cultures helps you to know yourself better as an individual and what works best for you.
“I was working for an ocean conservation charity in South Africa and then in China a taxi driver swapped all my money for fake money!
“It was a learning experience though and China was such a fascinating place. I’ve been keeping things ticking over in the pool but I’ve been doing it abroad in South Africa, Australia, Mexico, America, and gaining as much life experience and knowledge as possible.
“I’ve been doing it all on my own and I’ve met so many incredible people that have had a huge impact on my life.”
However, while ‘Ellie Simmonds: Intrepid Traveller’ was very much the tone for the last 12 months it will be the Paralympic champion that we can expect as she begins to focus on Tokyo 2020
And, while she won’t be competing at this year’s World Championships, she is keen to get back in the pool and apply her new outlook on life to her sport.
“I’ve had an incredible year, probably the best year of my life aside from swimming,” Simmonds said.
“It was weird to break away from my routine that I had been in since I was a youngster. I would swim nine times a week and at a certain time in the morning.
“To have a year where I have had no routine has been really weird but I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine.
“I’m relishing the moment where I have to get back into the pool at 5am and swim for two hours. I think the big thing is that I can take all the experiences I’ve had of the world and apply them to swimming.
“I know myself much better than before and I know what works for me so I am really excited to get back to business and work towards Tokyo 2020.”