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Ellie Simmonds says Tokyo Paralympics 2021 will be even bigger and better
Ellie Simmonds: "When I found out the news that the games had been postponed until next year I cried"
Last Updated: 25/08/20 3:12pm
British swimming legend Ellie Simmonds reflects on lockdown, and looks ahead to Tokyo 2021, where she hopes to be competing in her fourth Paralympics.
The Paralympic Games will now be held from August 24 until September 5, 2021, with five-time gold medallist Simmonds determined to qualify for the biggest event on the planet.
She started competing on the world stage at the age of 13 and by the time Tokyo comes around next year she will have turned 26.
But there's no stopping one of Britain's most treasured Olympians of all time. Simmonds is determined to add to her medal haul no matter what the circumstances are this time next year.
I would love to just qualify for my fourth Paralympics at the moment - that would be a dream come true.
"Having everything cancelled this year means the Paralympics next year will be huge. They bring nations together but next year it's going to be a whole big party," said Simmonds. "I don't know a games that has been postponed or put back so it's going to be a pretty amazing games to be part of."
"When I found out the news that the games had been postponed until next year I cried. The games are every four years and when you train in January, you're in full focus, you're ready to compete. When it goes like that, it's tough.
"But we've been trying to keep our minds positive in times like this. As athletes we can cope with challenging times, but it's really important about mental health and dealing with lockdown. For me, it's not going to go overnight. It's going to take time to get my fitness back and I know next year I'm going to try to be in the best shape of my life.
"I would love to just qualify for my fourth Paralympics at the moment - that would be a dream come true."
Simmonds spoke about dealing with the highs and lows of life as a professional sportsperson, a woman, and dealing with issues of mental health. She recalls one of her darkest moment at Rio 2016 when an independent inquiry into complaints of bullying from 13 Para-swimmers found they and their families faced "unacceptable behaviours" in a "climate of fear".
She said: "I hated Rio and I hated everything about it. It really was a tough time after everything that was happening with British Para-Swimming at that time, but I think you look back and you reflect on the past. I've been able to process it, and for me, I've been able to clear my head during lockdown.
"You realise when things go wrong, that make you stronger and they happen for a reason in a way."
My plan of going to Tokyo has gone out of the window, but I was able to spend three to four months with my family and I've never been able to do that before. I've got to know my family more in the past five months than in years.
Ellie Simmonds on lockdown
She admits the lockdown experience has been a "hard-time" for everyone and even for herself at times.
"You go from highs to lows," said Simmonds. "We've had all our routines changed overnight and now we're unsure of what is going to happen. We don't know if we're going to have a second lockdown. It's been tough for everyone, especially kids. Some were supposed to be undertaking exams and all of that goes overnight. It's really hard on their mental wellbeing.
"We're kind of lucky that we've had nice weather, we've had times when we've been able to spend time with our families. There has been some bad times as well, but overall there have been more positives.
"My plan of going to Tokyo has gone out of the window, but I was able to spend three to four months with my family and I've never been able to do that before. I've got to know my family more in the past five months than in years.
"Luckily, online activities have been able to bring people together."
Swimming has played a huge part of Simmonds life, but having something she has loved doing all of her life suddenly taken away from her clearly put a strain on her.
"I spent three to four months out of the water which is something I have done since I was five. In March I was probably in the best shape of my life preparing for trials for the Paralympics and then on Friday, March 20 all of that went out the window," she reflected.
"I've just tried to keep as active as possible knowing that it's not just me in this situation. Everyone across the world is in the same boat. This is the time when you realise as an athlete that sport comes second and the health and safety of our country, our family and friends, is the most important thing."
Simmonds is an ambassador of the Sainsbury's Active Kids Holiday Clubs - which provide summer clubs for kids, designed to encourage kids from 5-15 years to be more active and healthier during the summer holidays. However, these have not been able to go ahead this year.
Instead, they will be launching online social content, based on the clubs, which will provide ways for parents to help kids stay entertained and healthy during the break. From physical and mental activity, to wellbeing and much more.
She said: "Children have their set routines, they wake up, they go to school, they come home and then stay at home or go to their activities, but all of that goes out of the window and I think sometimes kids find it hard to comprehend what is happening. Trying to keep mentally and physically active during times like this is needed.".
Ellie Simmonds is an ambassador for Active 20 Challenge, a brand-new virtual summer programme from Sainsbury's Active Kids which is free and available to all. To find out more, head to the Sainsbury's Instagram and Pinterest channels.