Being thrust into the limelight aged thirteen could mess with your head a little. Then staying at the top of your game for more than ten years, that’s a lot of pressure. Being seen as a figurehead for the Paralympic movement, a role model for youth, for young women, for people with dwarfism and with disabilities, the weight is immense. Somehow Ellie Simmonds remains the most likeable and unaffected person you would be lucky to meet.
There have been bumps along the way, periods when she took some time out from swimming. However, the desire to compete and succeed remains strong. In a personal, thoughtful and fun conversation Phil and Simon talk about Ellie’s career, her thoughts on mental health, about having dwarfism. the support she has and her involvement with the Dwarf Sports Association. We also discuss the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021 and what life after she stops competitively swimming might look like.
Simon gets a little overwhelmed and frankly sometimes silly, Boccia and his medals get a mention!. Luckily Phil is on hand to steer us back to calmer waters.
Paralympics London 2012 Ellie winning Gold Women’s 400m freestyle S6
Welcome to the Way We Roll with Simon Minty and Phil Friend.
Simon Minty 0:17
Welcome to the Way We Roll with me Simon Minty
Phil Friend 0:20
and me, Phil Friend.
Simon Minty 0:22
Our guest will be familiar to many. She is extraordinary in many ways I will also say upfront. She's actually one of my heroes.
Phil Friend 0:28
Oh, come on Simon pull yourself together for goodness sake. Welcome, Ellie Simmonds.
Ellie Simmonds 0:34
Hello, Phil, and Simon
Phil Friend 0:37
lovely to have you here.
Ellie Simmonds 0:38
Thank you, very much.
Phil Friend 0:38
Now, let's see where would we start with you, Ellie. If there are people who don't know you or don't know who you are, and there can't be many surely you shot to national attention at the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, where you won two gold medals at the age of 13.
Simon Minty 0:56
You went on to compete at London 2012 for the Great Britain squad winning two more gold medals. You got another gold medal at the Rio Paralympics in 2016. And in total, you have five Paralympic gold eight world golds. And yet you don't have a bronze in Boccia, like me yet.
Ellie Simmonds 1:13
No, yeah, no, yeah, I'm chasing that dream. Maybe the next World Dwarf games in Germany, I've got my eyes set!
Phil Friend 1:21
I'm thinking of entering as well, just to make sure he doesn't win it. Now. I suppose one of the best things was you won the BBC Young Sports Personality award in 2008. And you were also awarded an MBE in 2009, which was elevated to an OBE in 2013 for services to Paralympic sport.
Simon Minty 1:42
I get to see you at you've already mentioned Dwarf Sports Association UK events and the world games which we have every four years. I'm reading you're still you still a girl guiding leader.
Ellie Simmonds 1:53
Not at the moment. Yeah, but a couple of years ago, I was but at the moment, I'm a scouts Ambassador so a different side. But yeah,
Simon Minty 2:03
I just liked your name. Aqua Owl was the best ever.
Ellie Simmonds 2:06
Oh, it was so good that the brownies named after? Yeah, after that. And it was just an amazing choice. They gave me like a list of like, names to choose and I was like, Yeah, Aqua Owl is a good one. So I'll go. I'll pick that one. It's a good one.
Phil Friend 2:20
So presumably, you're doing everything you can at the moment to make sure you go to the rescheduled Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2021. But what went through your head Ellie, when you realized that the worldwide pandemic was meaning that you would be put back a year? I mean, how did that feel for you?
Ellie Simmonds 2:39
I'm not gonna lie, it was so hard. It was really tough mentally. I think I'm a person not just as a swimmer, but also a human being that loves planning as I live with my diary it's on the side of me all the time. And I had a plan. This year was January 2020, was all about the games. And then the summer of Olympics and Paralympics. And then once that finished then my plan was to retire afterwards yeah, so it was like, all of that had gone out the window. And it was really hard to like put my mind around it. Like, what do I do? Do I do it? Do I retire now? Or do I carry on? So it was really hard to like, weigh up those options? But I think actually, in a way, it was really nice because I took that time away. And I was able to really process what I've already achieved in the past as an athlete, you don't get that? Do you know we have a World Championships, we have two weeks holiday and then we're off again already? And actually, sometimes you don't really have that time to stop and realize what you've achieved in my career or what you what you've achieved as a Paralympian. So for me, it was that two, three months at my parents away from London with my family was able to really process what I've achieved. And we'd gone through all my like, memory boxes. We did go through all, like the newspaper cuttings, and all those types of things. And I was like, Yeah, I've actually achieved a lot like, I love my sport, and I want to keep carrying on. And at moment is given me the biggest motivation ever and I'm really thankful for that time away
Simon Minty 4:19
I kind of like your whole reflection moment as you right not many people get the chance to do that. And at the beginning, we bigged you up but we've only mentioned half of the things that you've actually achieved.
Phil Friend 4:32
I was just gonna say it seems remarkable that somebody of your age, what are you 20 - 25?
Ellie Simmonds 4:38
25 26 next month Yeah, someone on the tube this morning was chatting to me and said are you 19, I'll take 19 any day no I'm 25
Phil Friend 4:51
It seems remarkable but I know that the careers of sportspeople, particularly elite sportspeople is short. Yeah, but it seems quite extraordinary that you're talking about retiring it sort of 25
Ellie Simmonds 5:03
Yeah, but I've been in this sport for such a long time, like my first World Championship debut was in 2006 when I was 12, going to South Africa, and ever since that I, I'm 25. Now, so I've been in a long, long time. And I think sometimes as an athlete like I've achieved what I wanted to achieve. I remember sitting on the sofa watching Athens, 2004 Paralympic Games and sitting and thinking, I want to go to a Paralympics. And to think so far, I've been to three and I've achieved what I've achieved. And sometimes it's good too, to set a new goal in the next chapter. And I think sometimes, you know when you're ready for that,
Simon Minty 5:43
I was wondering, you say diary is important, but also is a goal or a target is that critical as well to kind of keep going?
Ellie Simmonds 5:49
Yeah, motivation hugely. Like it's all about. setting that next goal-setting that next World Championships, Paralympic Games, whatever, like, and it's that drive, isn't it, not just as a Paralympic swimmer, but also, everyone has those drives to achieve certain goals. And sometimes it's, you've done all of that in one thing, and it's, it's, it's time next to do something else.
Simon Minty 6:14
I want to go back a little bit now, not so much that your swimming career as an early young person, rather, but it was at age five, you say that you kind of got really interested in it. What I'm really struck by was the fact that your mum and you moved from is it Walsall to Swansea is that right?
Ellie Simmonds 6:31
Simon Minty 6:31
And I'm curious about the family dynamics. And you know, you've got brother three sisters. And yeah, did you miss them? How was that in terms of just being sort of away from the family?
Ellie Simmonds 6:43
I think looking back now, it was one of the things that I found really, really hard was being away from family. And like, me, my dad always say, like, it was one of that time where we missed, he missed my growing up. And I missed that Father-daughter relationship, because yeah, at 12 or 13, I made the decision with my parents, for me and my mom to move to Swansea to the High-Performance Center in Para-Swimming. So I'm lived in Swansea, Monday to Saturday morning, and then used to travel home to be with my family. And we're very family orientated. But it fitted at the perfect time. My next sister oldest to me was moving to university, my other siblings were moving away from home. So it was I think it fitted perfectly because it was the right time. And it was what got me to hopefully go to Beijing. But it did get me to go to Beijing and London. And I think now, one of my best friends and my coaches is Billy Pye. And he was the reason I went and I'm still with him now training away. So it's, yeah, it was hard at the time with the sacrifice and moving away from my family. But now it's got me to where I am today.
Simon Minty 7:56
And they always say, I've got this sort of dates muddled up there. But it is you have to make this big sacrifice. And that's part of it. Okay, weird question. jumping ahead a few years and say, if you choose to have children, do you think they get interested in swimming? Would you say right, we're going up sticks at 12? When do you think you'd repeat that, again, with your own children's is what I'm saying?
Ellie Simmonds 8:17
I think I would give them whatever sport they want to do or whatever, if they're talented at art, or anything that you give your kids that opportunities that they get to develop what they love to do. And I think, yeah, in the future, if when I have children, I love to support them in anything they love. They do. And I'm very lucky that my parents gave me that support. And I wouldn't be where I am today without them. And it's always nice, even as a 25-year-old now. I've competed so many times. When I go to competitions, I love to know where they are, like certain pools that have to sit in certain areas, because it's like my comfort blanket. It's like knowing where they are like, I don't need them. But in the back of my mind, I know where they are. So that's Yeah, it's a mental it's weird, but
Phil Friend 9:09
Ellie, and are you superstitious? Do you have to do certain routines before you get in the water or stuff?
Ellie Simmonds 9:15
Not certain things. I have to always be on time or ahead of time. Like if I'm late to something or late to the coolroom or to my race. It really panics me? And sometimes again, actually, maybe I do because I always have dried mango before a major race in the coolroom. I don't know why I don't have it now but in a race, I always do so maybe it is I always think it's like that sugar rush. And also like before, and like enter the water when I stand behind the block. I always have to like fiddle with my hat and goggles to make sure that they don't fill up with water because that would be my huge, huge panic. If my goggles filled up with water. Oh my god, I would like I don't know what to do. So maybe That's a superstition in a way because I have to make sure they're fully on me tight. And afterwards, I'm like, my, to my eyes really hurt but I can't have water in them because I like to see where I'm going.
Simon Minty 10:14
It's a bit coming on the show. Can I ask you non-sensible questions? I imagine you've done this so many times. So they did fill up with a bit of water or a lot, would you not just be able to keep going? Because, you know, the rhythm and the, how many strokes and so on?
Ellie Simmonds 10:29
I think I probably would have to, because Can you imagine me stopping and escaping just because my goggles filled up with water? it would be pretty embarrassing Just like, close my eyes and just hope for the best? And but yeah, cuz I think it would be embarrassing. Oh, Ellie Simmonds has got out of the pool him in Cisco. Because, yeah, cuz her goggles had filled up with water!
Simon Minty 10:52
But I like the idea that Ellie won the race in a slightly unusual manner with a headfirst bumped it on the wall.
Ellie Simmonds 11:00
Okay yeah, it wouldn't be a good look?
Phil Friend 11:02
Um, the secret has to be that you're so far ahead, you have time to do it.
Simon Minty 11:07
That'd be cool, wouldn't it.
Ellie Simmonds 11:09
But one thing one rule is you're not really, when when you fiddle with your goggles in the water, you're not allowed to put your foot down lucky enough, the Olympic pool is three meters deep. So it wouldn't work. I would be okay, so I wouldn't get disqualified.
Phil Friend 11:27
Ellie one of the things about the swimming, that's really the interesting ideas about goggles filling up with water. But there is something very technical about Paralympic sports. And that's this classification thing. And your classification s6? I think
Ellie Simmonds 11:44
Yeah, that's right.
Phil Friend 11:45
I mean, just without getting too into all this, how does the classification thing work? I mean, I remember when I play basketball, there were certain points you were given, depending on the level of your disability or impairment.
Ellie Simmonds 11:59
Yeah, I think in the outsider looking in, it's quite hard to figure it out. But once you get the knowledge and understanding, it's actually quite a good little system. So with para-swimming, there are 10 physical disability categories S1 is the most severe. So people who can only maybe move their heads have got very limited movements to S10, which is to S 10 is the yes least severe. So people who are maybe missing a few fingers, maybe you're missing an ankle, it could, it could vary, but it's quite good because it's a system where they measure you on land plus in the water because swimming is a very buoyant sport. And you may be very severe on land, but in the water, you could be a total fish. So it's a system where they get to measure you on points on land and in the water, and you get put in your own category. So I'm an S6 so I get a certain amount of points. So I don't compete just against people with dwarfism. I compete against people with cerebral palsy, and missing limbs and paraplegic, it varies on their different disability, but it's a really good factor. And I know Simon came and watched with some of his friends and our friends, and last year at the World Championships in 2019. And it was, I'm sure he hopefully got his head around the different disabilities in the different classifications.
Simon Minty 13:31
We did, and we loved it. It was a bundle of us, and it was September and you're right. And it did help and they were really good. They would sort of announce it until you what they were. So you had an idea of what was going on. I must confess, after you had swum, we kind of lost a little bit of interest because we're so excited about you swimming, and we're like, we want you We need you to be in the last race because it was great. And you're right, it became a lot more clear because it was a good explanation.
Ellie Simmonds 13:56
I think I think that Channel Four are doing really, really good job with the Paralympic sport and how they're showcasing it. And I think called with Giles Long called the Lexie. I think it's called the Lexie in the fact but it's, I think it is quite a confusing thing classification as well, because I think sometimes people always think, Oh, I should be competing against people who have dwarfism. But it's about like, the different movements and like, for me, I've got two, two limbs, yes, but they equal one in the water. So because of my arm stroke and arm width so it is quite confusing, but I think once the knowledge and understanding is out there, then people will get a better understanding.
Phil Friend 14:39
I suppose it's, I mean for the non-disabled person watching what's going on. I mean, for example, you go to a track and field event you expect it to be 100 metre final. That's it.
Ellie Simmonds 14:50
Phil Friend 14:51
Whereas in Paralympic sport, there could be 10 100 meter finals depending on the classifications and so on. So that is confusing, but, but the ultimate aim of it all, I think Ellie is to make sure it's fair. It's so that everybody can compete.
Simon Minty 15:06
Ellie we know this you know this the Paralympics they kind of inspire children, adults with disabilities, even me old-timers started doing sports later. And it means they want to achieve and just be athletic. Do you kind of ever worried that you know, the overall success of the Paralympics might mean that society thinks that anyone with a disability has got to become a Paralympian.
Ellie Simmonds 15:30
And that's what I do worry sometimes because the Paralympics is absolutely incredible. And it can inspire so many people into the sport, which is incredible not just children, but any age, and anyone who, even if you've got a disability or you haven't, but sometimes I think some the general public, always view or not always, but it's sometimes they view that every disabled person out there should be the next Paralympian and that's not the case, not every disabled person is not going to be the next Paralympian they could strive to be the next doctor, vet, primary school teacher, and it's about that awareness that's anyone no matter what you look like, disability, hidden disability, you can do anything. And it surely raises that awareness that it's, not every four years is going to be the Paralympics, but people in everyday society is getting accepted. And I think that's changing this year. 2020 has been a real breakthrough in people with different who look different. You've got like the likes of like, LGBT, all that support, you've got like Black Lives Matter. And it's, and I think it's great for kids out there raising awareness that there are so many different types of different people out there. And it's, it's great to be different.
Simon Minty 16:57
I get what you're saying. And I can kind of think of Obviously, I'm an older generation to you and then Phil as well. And perhaps in my time, we didn't have the opportunity to go to sports. the Paralympics were very early days. But so that might have been an avenue that was closed off, then the Paralympics come along oh my goodness, there is an elite sport. This is amazing. But there's still disabled people who'd rather read a book or would rather go and do something else. And that's what you're kind of saying it's just because it's now being opened doesn't shouldn't pigeonhole us all to go and do that?
Ellie Simmonds 17:28
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think one thing, that the Paralympics has been great at. It's been accepting disabled people into society, but also knowledge. Like when I was young, it was hard for disabled people to get into able-bodied, mainstream swimming clubs. But now coaches have got an understanding of disabled people and accepting people with different disabilities into the swimming clubs because they've got knowledge because they're not scared of like coaching people with a disability. So I think that's, I think that's a good thing. But also, Yeah, it is. It's amazing what the Paralympics is doing. And it's showcasing disability elite sport, but also it's, yeah, could have a little negative knowledge to.
Phil Friend 18:17
One of the things that's changed in my lifetime. I, I am old enough to remember Ludwig Guttmann, Stoke Mandeville and when the game started there, and I think what's changed hugely is at that moment, it was therapeutic, it was good for you to do and nobody disputes that it still is good for you to do. But what you demonstrate is as an elite athlete, your training schedules, everything you do is as professional as a non-disabled swimmer would be doing. And it's nothing therapeutic is not good for you. In that sense. It's now you know, Ellie Simmons is out there to win medals, and she'll win them if she can. And I think that's a huge shift. But I take your point, I think the Activity Alliance that I'm a member of is very keen to encourage disabled people to try out all sorts of things. And if Simon mentions Boccia once again at this point, I think I might jump up if I could jump up and down I would.
This is The Way We Roll presented by Simon Minty and Phil Friend.
Phil Friend 19:17
So Ellie, I mean, how do you stick at this because your training schedules before we went on air, you talked about your training schedules, you know, on the tube at five in the morning, all that stuff, swimming nine sessions a week, we asked the same thing of Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson. How do you keep going through you know, the Paralympics comes along and there you are the star, but for years, you've been getting ready for that. How do you do that?
Ellie Simmonds 19:43
I think it's because I love my sport. I love what I do. I'm very fortunate that I found what I love. Like yeah, it is hard. Like sometimes when my alarm goes off, I'm like, really Can I just have an extra hour in bed But I think sometimes it's that passion for it. And I love what I do. But also the opportunities that it gives me like, I am able to travel the world with it, I'm able to meet so many incredible people, I'm able to do things like this because I love my sport and what I've been able to achieve. So I think that's what keeps me going. And the main thing, yeah, but there are days like, I'm not going, I'm not a robot all the time I come, I do get tough days to where I'm like, this is not for me like I just want to walk away. But you get it's like a roller coaster. It's life. I think some people who are in the office, I'm sure they have days where they love going to work, but then there are some days where they could just want to sit on the sofa watching Netflix all the time. And yeah, that's me as well, like I, if the things that it gets me, like, it gives me the most incredible opportunities, I've been able to travel the world and represent my country and do all those types of things. So I'm very lucky,
Simon Minty 21:00
I'm gonna come back to that little bit of sometimes I want to walk away, but I'm actually gonna be serious for a moment the something you said about the therapeutic nature in the very early days when I sit and talk to members of the Dwarf Sports Association in the UK, there's a really interesting balance because we know for the youngsters when they're particularly young, and coming in this is about just hanging out with people having some fun, a little bit of nice competition, and everyone might get a medal or a certificate. And it's about coming. And I presumed that Activity Alliance is a little bit like just come along and participate. It's not all about winning. But then there's the other element of the Dwarf Sports Association where we're grooming people to become elite athletes and there'll be people who will go on and become Paralympians. And, and that's the joy of it, they play just for fun, but then becomes something else.
Ellie Simmonds 21:47
I think it's amazing what Dwarf Sports Association UK does, it's absolutely incredible. It's where I started, I went as a 4 or 5-year-old and that's when I realized about competing or participating in a sport where there's we're all the similar. And again, it was for friends as a kid. Like I remember getting so excited for the May weekend and counting down my week and go in and being so sad when it finished on that Monday morning. And but also now it's you see the likes of yummy, Jack Kristen, who are hoping to go to the next Paralympics in for badminton. So it's a great mix. And it's an incredible charity to be part of because you've got the youngsters who are starting out, trying all the different sports participating, having fun with their friends, but also the older guys who are also competing, but also hanging out with friends too. And it's, it's a great charity to be involved with.
Phil Friend 22:50
Do you think it's important Ellie I'm learning? I think we all understand that there are moments in our lives where we need to be with people like us, you know, so I mean, five years of age sounds,
Simon Minty 23:04
We have a video like a lady being lifted from the podium coming down, from Penny Dean, it's the most beautiful video, it's lovely.
Ellie Simmonds 23:13
It gets me here literally
Phil Friend 23:12
I get the idea that for small people to be together with each other, to gain the confidence to try things out is vitally important. And that's certainly something but you also talked a minute or two ago about the need for coaches and others like pools, for example, swimming pools to allow people to participate with non-disabled people or with whoever they want. So there's this kind of what you seem to be saying sorry, I'm waffling you seem to be saying is there's a really important moment in all our lives when we need to be people like us before we can then go out and try ourselves out against other people is that a fair thing to say,
Ellie Simmonds 23:18
I think it's a balance, isn't it, I think it's about being integrated in society. But also, this one time, one in the month, one time in the year, sorry, in May, when we all get together as the same. It's that confidence booster as well. But it's also being part of integrated in society as well. Because I know a lot of able-bodied parents who have got and who have dwarf kids or older or anything, it's that time where you can go and be with similar people. And also I learned a lot from like, going to dwarf sports weekend like what jeans work best for smaller legs, alterations, all that type of stuff. And it's about the balance of it all.
Simon Minty 24:45
You mentioned a bit about sometimes you want to walk away cuz this is exhausting and the schedules and so on. And I know you did take a year out not that long ago. This is a long introduction. I can only imagine what it's like to have the pressures To be so well known as you were and so young, reflecting, how do you think you manage some of that? Have you come through unscathed?
Ellie Simmonds 25:09
Mentally, it's been a roller coaster, in a sense, but I'm very lucky. The support around me has been incredible. My parents who keep me grounded, my coach, Billy Pye, who keeps me grounded as well, I've got great friends, I've got a great family. And I think it's all about that, as I've grown up, the support of them has really helped me. But there have been days where it's been really tough being recognized, and I just want to be like, normal Ellie, and not known as a swimmer. And, but it comes with the territory of what I've achieved. Like I've got a, I think I've got over it now as I'm a lot older when I was 17 and 18, you want to just blend in with everyone else because you're still figuring yourself out. Whereas now I'm a lot older, I know who I am. And I think that year out really helped me figure out who I am. And I think it is, in a sense, I know this sounds cringy. But I found myself on that year out because I was able to beforehand, I was like, I'm a swimmer. I know my routine. I know my schedule, I have to train in the morning train in the evening, I go to school, and I think that gear up realized, maybe realize who I am what I like to do. And I was able to wake up and think where should I go? What should I do? I'm saying yes to absolutely everything socially and travelling. And I think I was able to realize that I'm okay on my own as well. Because I was travelling some of these places on my own and you figure yourself out, don't you when you're on your own because you know, your comfort in your non-comforts and yet, and it was a really great year,
Simon Minty 26:48
Not cringy. And I did six months of backpacking, many moons ago, and it was my transition from regular job steady local where I lived and to doing something completely different. And you're right, you're on your own, you don't have the history, you can be whatever you want to be. There's something remarkable about that, if you can do it, that's fabulous that it worked for you.
Ellie Simmonds 27:08
It was absolutely It was one of the best years of my life. Literally, I was able to like, go abroad and speak to people and them not know who I am, who I am. But also, yeah, like you say you have that time alone, to really process things, what you like what you don't, and, like some of the most magical things in the world, I was able to see. And I think it really puts you into your place really like the simple things in life as well. And it's not just about Go go go all the time, rush, rush, rush, it's about that slow life, and it's about taking little things in like, I still do it now I still try and say to myself, like a little mantra, three little things that make me happy today, or I'm grateful for because it's otherwise you could get lost in all of that.
Simon Minty 28:06
So you do not have to become a spokesperson for a whole generation. But I think anxiety mental well being is very big for and it's a big issue that lots of people have difficulty with it. And definitely, we'll talk about it. What do you think some of the pressures are that 20-year-olds and that age group have now and why is it more difficult to think?
Ellie Simmonds 28:27
So I think mental health is huge. And I think it's incredible, but it's getting really big talking point now, and especially in sport as well. I think a lot of people view us that we should be strong mentally, physically, we're up against the world with Olympians, Paralympians, we've got nothing stopping us. And I think sometimes we do struggle like we've got pressure, not just from ourselves, but the whole UK sport, and society. Going out and achieving at a certain time, we had that one race where we have to race against the whole world. And that's pressure. And that's tough. And it's really tough sometimes to take it on your mental health. But we've been great. And I think a lot lately has been talked about mental health. And it's about being accepting and being okay to say, if you're not okay, I know there's a saying around, going out saying it's okay not to be okay. And I think that's really great. Because sometimes you do get days where you're like, lowest low and you don't know why and if you talk about it to people, it helps. And I'm very lucky that I've got those certain individuals that I can talk to when the going does get tough, but I think everyone, you have your little roller coaster of emotions, and it's really important that is okay to talk about it.
Phil Friend 29:52
Do you think Ellie there's been quite a lot of coverage in the news and press recently about what's been happening to young women in gymnastics and bullying and that kind of thing from coaches particularly, how does your coach kind of look after you and manage, particularly when you're feeling very down? You know, how did they manage that at the same time as kind of pushing you hard? Because it seems to be a reality? It's a real balance, isn't it?
Ellie Simmonds 30:20
I totally understand. No, I don't know what these girls go through. But I know, it's probably super tough for them. And, but I'm yeah, lucky that my coach is not just a great coach, but he's also my best friend as well. We've been together working since I was 12 or 13. So he knows me, in and out, really. And I think what makes him a great coach is because he knows what makes me tick. He knows some days when I know I'm not off. Yeah, when I'm off that to give me a bit of space, maybe not push me as much. And then days where he knows that I'm on it, to push, push, push. And I think that's what makes it an amazing coach is someone that can understand their athlete, no matter what. And I think it's that working relationship, isn't it, he sees me first thing in the morning, and then in the evenings too, and he sees me in my days where I'm like, nervous going into one of my major races. So he, he sees all of it really all the emotion. So I'm very lucky that I can talk to him about everything, from personal things to athlete things to family things. And I'm great that I've got that relationship with him.
Phil Friend 31:38
That sounds brilliant. So the essence of it is, it's that personal understanding that he has of you so that he knows when to push you and when to leave you alone.
Ellie Simmonds 31:47
Oh yeh totally.
Simon Minty 31:48
They talk about it in football now, I don't mean it's part of it is if you're a manager, you need to be able to train people to be able to play better football, but the other half is managing those personalities and in their case egos or their big superstars. So you've got to manage all of that as well. Ellie, I want to unpick something. So I remember it must have been around the 20s. And being a short person, someone with dwarfism, where I sort of haven't had a wobble, but I wasn't quite sure. And I suddenly had to reevaluate things. That's when I had my moment of hanging out with lots of short people. Have you had a moment where you suddenly thought, Oh, this is quite difficult, having dwarfism Have you sailed through?
Ellie Simmonds 32:27
And I don't think there's ever been that one time where I really, really thought about it. And I think you do get those certain days where you think like, for me, it's like when I go shopping in a way, I don't know why. But it's like you see all these nice jeans are these nice shoes that you can't get? Because I'm like, like, my legs are shorter my feet a lot shorter than the average woman. I think those are the moments where you're like, ah, I wish I could just have a bit longer legs or a bit longer fee. But I think there's never been that real moment where I thought I'm not happy with who I am. Like sometimes. Yeah, I think as a woman, and especially lately with social media. Yes. I think it's getting better now. But previously, you had to have this certain body shape. You have to be a bikini all the time. I think that's a natural woman pressure, where sometimes like, I've got lines on my legs that sometimes I'm not happy with. But I think it's it's realizing accepting yourself that we're all not similar. Like we're all not Barbie dolls. We're all not these nine-foot models like we've got lumps, we've got bumps in places that we don't want to, but we've got to accept who we are. And when someone sees behind the looks, and sees your personality and sees your smile or chattiness, then all that goes out the window. So I think it's just about being who you are. And being rooted to who you are as a person.
Simon Minty 33:58
Your chattiness and your smile can win anybody over there are no two ways about it. And to qualify, I was okay being me. I was just angry with the world and how they treated me and how I might have been positioned or that going out and getting frustrated with them. So yeah, I suppose it's one of the same things.
Ellie Simmonds 34:16
yeah, I think like sometimes, like, even in my kitchen, like having to use a stool all the time or climb up. But it's like, oh, why can't I have a smaller kitchen? But at the end of the day, I'm sure everyone has bad things that they get angry with. And everything can't be small, just because I'm smaller like that wouldn't be right?
Simon Minty 34:38
So when I was hoping you become Prime Minister at some point and change that!
Ellie Simmonds 34:43
I don't think I could do that!
Phil Friend 34:47
I suppose you could always employ somebody tall to do those things for you or live with a wheelchair user because we have the same problems. We can't reach anything either
Ellie Simmonds 34:56
Why don't we hire a private chef to cook for us every night?
This is The Way We Roll presented by Simon Minty and Phil Friend.
Phil Friend 35:06
One question I have for you. I mean, it's the obvious question. I'm sure you've been asked this loads of times, but it's still a valid question, which is, obviously what comes after sport. What do you do when you do retire? what's the what's the interest? I'm in awe of you for a different reason, because of your books,
Ellie Simmonds 35:28
Ellies Magical Bakeries? Yeah.
Phil Friend 35:30
Oh, come on. I haven't read them yet. But I've got five grandchildren. So there's definitely going to be in the Christmas stockings. Now. You know, clearly, there's a talent there for that there's you've got various talents, across all sorts of different things. Have you begun to think about how you might spend the time you've got left when you're not
Simon Minty 35:51
Is it worth introducing the idea if you're if you work really hard, Ellie, and you know, with a bit of luck, you may well follow in my footsteps and get that bronze at Boccia!
Ellie Simmonds 36:00
Yeah, that's my goal after swimming.
Simon Minty 36:04
it was just you need a target. We need a target.
Phil Friend 36:12
He does this all the time. Can we go back to the very important books, I mean maybe you will give Boccia a go. Actually, Ellie look between you and me could you take up Boccia because I'm sure you'd beat him!
Simon Minty 36:32
Would you like to talk through a couple of my matches? Would that be a good time?
Ellie Simmonds 36:36
Maybe after? Oh, yeah. What I want to do after swimming, I really want to become a primary school teacher. And, yes, I love working with kids. And I'm very lucky that with Sainsbury's Active Kids and other companies, I'm able to go into schools, and especially primary schools, and chat with the kids. And I feel that's the age that you can change them, or not change them, but open their doors to other things and inspire them and give back. So that's what I'd love to do. And I love working with kids. And the questions that they ask when you go to the schools and stuff. And they just bring so much joy to me and also link that with travelling. So maybe teach abroad or something like this. I know that I love living in London here. And I love everything about Great Britain and the United Kingdom. But when you live somewhere else in a different country, you see the culture you see the real place. And I love to open my doors to other places and how other people live. So to go abroad and live somewhere but also work with kids and become a primary school teacher abroad, maybe teaching English or anything. That's what I'd love to do.
Simon Minty 37:51
Is South Africa one of your favourite places,
Ellie Simmonds 37:54
It is I love South Africa. Literally,
Simon Minty 37:58
What is it about it that makes is special?
Ellie Simmonds 38:00
I think I've got a lot of fond memories I spent on my year off I spent a month out there two weeks in Cape Town, went to Durban for a week and then I was like, where else should I go? So I decided to go back to Cape Town. I love Cape Town. And I think it was the fact the country's beautiful. The people make it the food is absolutely incredible. The Wildlife just how they live. I just think it's incredible. I love also Australia too. I could definitely see myself in Australia. I like the surf lifestyle. I'd fit in right well,
Phil Friend 38:42
Aside from you now going into Boccia, the primary school thing you presume you have to go to college and stuff
Ellie Simmonds 38:50
Yeah, I've looked into it I think I'll have to go I know I can learn on the job. Do like an apprenticeship start as an assistant teacher and then build up or go back to university and study a degree and maybe get a PGCE and but yet also you can get these teaching English degrees pretty quickly like for over four months. So I've looked into it and that's what I did in lockdown just to keep my options open. I also in lockdown as well did my practical of coaching and teaching swimming. So that option is always open, but I can't imagine doing that but
Simon Minty 39:31
Whoa, whoo, okay, I'm sorry. So we need you, Ellie. Even if it's part-time or occasionally would you do not want to be a coach? I mean it Dwarf Sports Association. You could be a swimming coach with that or is this just not your bag?
Ellie Simmonds 39:48
And I love everything about the sport. But I think I know this sounds very big-headed or quite weird in the sense like when I do coach or teach, I get annoyed because they can't do what I'm trying to express. So, in a way, it's like, yeah, I get a bit agitated with the sense. But also, it's because I know swimming so well. And I love the sport. I don't know if I want to stay on to it, because I'm excited to open doors and other aspects and try other things. So I'm trying to like, I know that I can do that any day. But I want to challenge myself in other things.
Phil Friend 40:31
So primary school teacher, if you become a primary school teacher, would you take them swimming?
Ellie Simmonds 40:36
Oh, probably Yeah, I definitely love to give them the eye to all the sports, not just swimming, sport is absolutely incredible and keeping them giving them the option of trying other different sport,
Simon Minty 40:50
I can understand in a very distant way, your idea that if they're not quite good enough, and you're trying to train them, and you know, it's not going to quite get there. So it sounds like you might need a few years away because I'm not gonna let you go again, years away, then you realize you miss it a bit too much. But then you need to be paired up with a potentially Paralympian someone who you can kind of go Oh, my goodness me. This is exciting to me. This is really interesting to me.
Ellie Simmonds 41:15
Yeah, so maybe that's a good idea actually, Simon, maybe you're planning my future here? And yeah, maybe if I do go into swimming, and it's the coaching side, maybe I'll do the club more competitive than learning how to swim. So maybe that's an option. But I think I love just working with kids and giving back in that sense. So whatever I do, I know that I want to do something that gives back,
Simon Minty 41:43
You preempted a question, which was, how hard will it be to let go of competitive swimming? I'm kind of interested in Tokyo as well. I mean, do you think Tokyo will be the last hurrah?
Ellie Simmonds 41:54
At the moment. I don't know. And if you would have asked me in like, February, I would have said, yeah. Tokyo is my last shot, but not last shot. But last games, that would be my fourth games. But at the moment, I'm so motivated. So I'm like, Billy, do you think we can go to Paris 2024. I'll be a bit older, but I'm just trying to keep my options open. At the moment. It's all up in the air this year, isn't it. It's been a year to remember, it's been a year that we haven't really thought about or planned. Because this is not what we would have expected at World pandemic. And it's about the health and safety of our country and people before thinking about sport, in a sense. And so hopefully goes to games next year. And hopefully, that happens, and then figure out after that, if I carry on or go to the next phase of my life.
Phil Friend 42:53
What do you think it'll be like Ellie if there will be no crowds? Swimming in an empty stadium closing?
Ellie Simmonds 43:02
It's taken my time to process that. But I think it's a Paralympics, and it's about competing. And in the end of the day. Yeah, you can feel the atmosphere. But I know. It's just gonna be me and those seven other athletes. And it's me against that clock. So if this crowd there is there isn't. I'm gonna go out there and race for my country.
Simon Minty 43:28
Have you managed to spend more time with your family during COVID? And you went home with a bit of reflection? I mean, how special was that?
Ellie Simmonds 43:36
Oh, it was absolutely incredible. I think I learned more about my family in those three months, then. my whole entire life, I think because you spend not a whole entire life. Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. But just you learn things from your parents what they like what they don't and especially as an older woman now, like you ask your parents more questions than you do as a teenager when you don't want to seem cool, like my family now are like, good friends now, too. You've got that relationship. And so it was really nice to spend that time with my family. We went for walks, well, one walk a day. And, and it was just that time together. We did a lot of Netflix TV, questions, just chatting. And it was just wonderful. Like, for me, I don't drink much, especially when I'm a full-time training full-time athlete. I was able to just have a glass of wine every Friday night just to chill out with my mum. And we just use and with the weather being so nice. We're able to sit outside, just drink and just chat and it was just so nice. It was definitely a couple of months. Yeah, I won't. I won't forget in a sense.
Simon Minty 44:52
I really love that is going back to you your year out and your travel and that that little bit of time for a bit of normality and a little bit of just closeness. And doing what everyone else does all the time that's brilliant?
Ellie Simmonds 45:05
Yeah, I think like I love being an athlete. But sometimes we've got to be quite selfish because we've got to be very all about ourselves. We've got a train in the morning training afternoon. And sometimes social life, that's quite hard to have. Because like, I'm in bed by nine asleep by half, nine. And as an older person, I mean, older person. And your social life going out for dinner going out for drinks is normally 10 o'clock half nine ten o'clock. And it's hard to, to miss out on that because I have to. And so it's, it's tough. I think my year off was able to truly open up that. And yeah, be able to socialize, be able to have a few drinks, try to be a normal 21-year-old at that time.
Simon Minty 45:56
I realized we haven't even touched on your social life and your love life, Ellie Simmonds, but we'll do get your back and do another show.
Ellie Simmonds 46:05
After 12, remember, Simon
Simon Minty 46:07
That's the late after-hours show, yeah. I'm gonna embarrass you a little bit, but I kind of have to say something, which is, and I probably speak on behalf of quite a lot of short people, not all of us, but those with dwarfism. And I think the impact that you've had is remarkable. I hate the fact that you said there were times it was really difficult, and you just go out shopping and all that notoriety. And I almost feel that at those points, you were sucking up some of the attention that we all get. So you're getting more, but I was getting less because suddenly Ellie Simmonds has made people with our height be a little bit less interesting we're different we're just normal, Ellie's normal, she's a swimmer, she gets on with it. Therefore, Simon is less interesting to the rest of the public because they go, Oh, he's like Ellie, in a sort of stretched way. You have made me laugh, you have made me cry. You've made me punch the air. You've made me get so excited and very nervous and all of these things. And that's just today. No, it isn't. It's when you're competing. So I know you didn't do this for that, because you're an athlete, and you do it for those reasons. But you are a remarkable person. And I thank you. So I can't think of anyone else in my lifetime, who has sort of improved my life accidentally. So thank you, Ellie, you're just amazing. You really are, it's a delight to even know you.
Ellie Simmonds 47:29
Oh, thank you very much. Oh, that's so nice. Thank you so, Simon. Yeah, I think I think to know that I can do that. It's just incredible. Because I know there's a lot of people out there who have, what we have dwarfism that sometimes they get their photos taken, or they don't feel comfortable with going out. And hopefully that I can bridge that. So it's easier for them. And seeing me on TV seen what I achieve at the games or just racing in general, knowing that people with dwarfism, we're all the same, we're just a bit smaller. And hopefully, that's they see us out in society in public and realize that Yeah, we are just small. And we're the same as everyone else. Like, and hopefully Yeah, it makes people with dwarfism in our community a lot more comfortable with going out and about. Absolutely,
Phil Friend 48:23
I think I there's no way I can compete with what Simon has just said. But I do recognize that, that what you've been doing, through the sport, the love of the sport you have has been empowering other people with a very similar condition to you to get out there and give life a real go. I think what you've done for disabled people, generally, people like me, is to show the rest of the world that it is possible for disabled people to be excellent. To be brilliant, to be fantastic.
Ellie Simmonds 48:56
Thank you very much. It's been great chatting to you guys. And thank you so much. And I think it's just making people realize that no matter what shape, size colour, you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it if it's a sport if it's entertainment if it's the arts, anything and I think it would be boring if we were all the same.
Simon Minty 49:18
100 percent. Thank you, Ellie, thank you so much for coming on our show.
Ellie Simmonds 49:21
Oh, thank you very much. It's been lovely chatting to you guys.
Phil Friend 49:24
Thanks very much, Ellie.
This is The Way We Roll presented by Simon Minty and Phil Friend. You can email us at [email protected] or just search for mintyandfriend on social media. We're on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.