Returning to the arena where you won two Paralympic golds is a rare opportunity for many athletes but for Great Britain’s Ellie Simmonds, it has become the norm.
Simmonds, who will be swimming competitively at the London Aquatics Centre for the first time since London 2012 at the World Para-swimming Championships this week, is certainly no stranger to Stratford after she selected it as her home pool on her return from her travels in 2017.
The pool holds fond memories for Simmonds. It is where she won four medals for Team GB at the 2012 Paralympics, as well as setting a new world record in the S6 400m freestyle, all at the remarkable age of just 17.
And while Stratford will always be home to her Paralympic achievements, for Simmonds, it truly feels like home.
Simmonds spends so many hours there that those London 2012 memories have faded well into the back of her mind.
🥇 | "It was relief, it was... everything"— ParalympicsGB (@ParalympicsGB) August 29, 2019
On the anniversary of the London 2012 @Paralympics Opening Ceremony @EllieSimmonds1 relives the emotion of one of the Games' most memorable moments. #OneYearToGo | #ImpossibleToIgnore pic.twitter.com/sCZPKrjbXz
But as Tokyo 2020 qualification creeps ever closer, she’s hoping the competitive nature of the World Para-swimming Championships will help to bring them back to life.
“I try not to think about my memories from London 2012 when I’m in the pool in Stratford,” said Simmonds.
“I walk through those doors of the aquatics centre almost every day, so I know it now as just a place where I belong.
“I train there day in day out and when I’m there, I’m always thinking about the next competition. Rarely do I think about my past swimming experience when I’m in the pool.
“However, having a major competition at my training base in the year leading up to Tokyo is going to be an amazing time for me. I do have so many fond memories of 2012.
“Maybe competing at a major competition there this summer will bring back some fond memories from the Paralympics – hopefully that will spur me on.”
Five-time Paralympic champion and eight-time world champion Simmonds has been ruling the pool ever since 2008 when she won her first Paralympic gold medal aged just 13 in Beijing.
But the 24-year-old, who has amassed an incredible 26 gold medals at major competition in her career, took a year out of competing after Rio after losing her love for the sport in the build-up to the Games.
It was an experience that altered her perspective on sport as she learned to rediscover her love for being an athlete. For Simmonds, now it’s all about enjoying the time she has left in the pool.
Her outlook may have changed, but Simmonds says when it comes to competing on home soil, her competitive edge will always be there, and with Tokyo creeping ever closer, she thinks it will come back stronger than ever.
“I’m a lot older than when I competed in my first Championships so my mindset is a bit different, I just go out there and enjoy it and see what I can do,” said Simmonds.
“For me, it’s more about having fun in the pool. I’d always like to get a personal best and it’s always fun to be on top of the podium but now I try to look at the bigger picture and enjoy the whole event.
“I’m very competitive, so I can’t hold myself back completely, but now I put less pressure on myself to perform.
“I’m at that point in my career where I don’t really think about medals anymore – I just go in, compete and swim as fast as I can.
“Whatever medal, whatever colour I get, it’s just a privilege to be back on that podium.
“That said, competing in London might be different – I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to pick up another medal in front of a home crowd.
“After taking a year out after Rio, my main aim was to get back on the team for Tokyo so as always, I’m going to go out there and give everything I’ve got.”