Her post-race interview following her fifth-place finish at the Paralympics in the 50m butterfly went viral and now swimmer Ellie Robinson is hoping her efforts in Tokyo will inspire a new generation of British athletes.
In an emotional poolside interview with broadcaster Channel 4, Robinson revealed she had been battling a hip condition called Perthes disease and that her top-five place finish was her greatest success after the ‘worst year of her life’.
Robinson is hopeful the performances of ParalympicsGB in Tokyo can harness the power of sport, and the incredible athletes, in breaking down barriers, shifting perceptions and increasing opportunities for all disabled people – making them impossible to ignore.
And if in some small way her poolside speech and performance in Tokyo helps to achieve that, Robinson admits it will have been job done.
“I always knew that I wanted to share my story but I didn’t expect it to be shared to this extent,” said Robinson, speaking at an event hosted by The National Lottery and UK Sport at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London as youngsters from across the capital tried their hand at new Olympic and Paralympic sports.
“I am really quite overwhelmed with the response. What’s quite heart-warming is that I’m learning that medals don’t define me. I love taking not just the experience I’ve had with sport but also with mental health and when I do school visits, helping build children into more resilient, stronger characters.
“I am really passionate making children healthier physically and mentally, because having been through the experiences I have, I want children to feel like they’re in control and they’re empowered.
“I think we’re on a par now with the Olympics in terms of the perceptions of our athletes. We’re being treated equally to Olympians which is fantastic.
“It’s important to provide opportunities, but I want this to be the beginning of developing the character of disabled athletes so they can empower themselves.”
The National Lottery, ParalympicsGB and UK Sport are committed to supporting efforts to get more disabled people into sport and activity and challenging perceptions of disability in the UK.
Thanks to support from The National Lottery and its players, who raise around £36 million a week for good causes including elite and grassroots sport, UK Sport are running From Home 2 The Games, an initiative to get more young people from urban areas to explore their potential in Olympic and Paralympic sport.
David Clarke, a board member of the British Paralympic Association and a former Paralympian himself, agrees the Paralympic Games are an important catalyst to drive truly meaningful change.
“The gold dust created by the elite performances demonstrates to people how Paralympians can pursue a sporting ambition,” said Clarke.
“Then what needs to happen is that needs to cross over into wider society. There are issues surrounding social inclusion and financial independence that need to be addressed.
“If you can see an environment where elite athletes are providing inspiration, it’s important for that to feed into other parts of society.
“We’ve got hundreds of young people, many of them disabled, enjoying sport in London today. It’s wonderful and I think people need to remember in the way you might not expect your next door neighbour to become an Olympian, you shouldn’t expect every disabled person to become a Paralympian. A lot of it is about enjoying grassroot sport and having the opportunity.”
He continued: “Get out there and give para-sport a go. The British Paralympic Association are working with a number of stakeholders to ensure that those opportunities exist.
“It’s really important that all clubs are providing an inclusive environment for everyone to play sport. It’s so empowering, it increases confidence, it increases social contact and after the pandemic where many people have been isolating and shielding, if people can have the opportunity to get out it’s so positive for mental health.”
David Henson, who won bronze for Great Britain on the track in the 200m at the Rio Paralympics and has competed at the Invictus Games, hailed the success of the British team in Tokyo.
“It has been unbelievable,” said Henson. “Every morning I wake up and look at the news on my phone and it just feels like the medal count is rocketing up at a pace.
“To be honest it has been quite difficult to keep up with the amount of medals coming in and who’s got what, because there’s just so many. I can’t believe that we’ve got medals in 17 different sports, which is more than we’ve ever done before.
“This is a tribute to London 2012 and the impact it had, the investment in sport that followed with The National Lottery investing heavily in our athletes.”
National Lottery players’ support to ParalympicsGB athletes and community sport is vital. If you’ve been inspired and want to explore your Paralympic and Olympic potential, visit www.fromhome2thegames.com