Tag Archives: swimming

Ollie Hynd MBE: I was really close to quitting swimming

The golds, the glory, the honours – Paralympic swimming champion Ollie Hynd has done it all. But it took a ‘light bulb’ moment whilst watching older brother Sam race in Beijing in 2008 to set him on the path to success.

“Sam also used to compete and he went to the Beijing Games. My parents took me to China to support him,” says the 25-year-old. “At the time I was quite reluctant and didn’t really want to go as I wasn’t very interested.

“But as soon as I got there, I was really inspired by the whole thing. I’d seen how much work that Sam had put into his swimming and his dedication. That inspired me to try and make London 2012. That was the first moment where I thought ‘I want to give this a real good go’.”

It wasn’t going to be easy, though. The swimming star was dealt a tough start to life. Just like his brother, he was diagnosed with neuromuscular myopathy at the age of 12; a condition that affects his whole body.

Hynd explains: “It’s more distally than proximally, so my hands are worse than my shoulders and my feet and knees are a little bit worse than my hips.

“With day-to-day stuff, walking is the big one. There’s a struggle with the stairs, writing and opening things. Little things like that affect my day-to-day life. Obviously, that translates into the pool and my impairments in the pool as well.”

Hynd first entered the swimming pool as a youngster when his parents encouraged him to be more water-safe – and it wasn’t long before he picked up a passion for the sport. He joined Sutton Swimming Club aged eight, then moved to the Nova Venturian Swimming Squad after that trip to Beijing made him start to believe that a bright future in the sport was possible.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Gold rush

Hynd’s hard work and dedication paid off. Not only did he qualify for the 2012 Paralympics in London, he took a gold medal home in the 200m individual medley as well – an experience that he will never forget.

“London 2012 as a whole experience was absolutely incredible. For any athlete wanting to compete at the highest level, competing at a home games is amazing.” says the Mansfield-born athlete.

“For me to not only be able to compete but to win a gold was an absolute dream. The only regret I have from London 2012 is that, because I was so young at 17, I didn’t really appreciate exactly what it was or the magnitude of what I was taking part in.

“For instance, I didn’t really take any photos at all whilst I was there which is kind of crazy. But it was a great experience and something that I will never forget and feel very really lucky to have been a part of.”

After being awarded an MBE for services to swimming a year later – an experience he describes “crazy” – Hynd turned his focus to bettering his achievements in London at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

“As much as London was great, the four years from London to Rio was really special. The training group that we had and all the competitions we had in between, it was just a really special time in my life and career.

“It was tipped off with Rio 2016 as the pinnacle of four years and even longer of really hard and very obsessive work for that one, sole goal.

“What made it more special was the negative stuff [about Brazil’s preparations] going into the games. We didn’t really know how it was going to go or what it was going to be like. But we got there and the village was fantastic, the people were great, the venue was great, food was great, transport was great.”

Hynd took gold in his opening event, the 400m freestyle, smashing the world record in the final. He then repeated the feat in his closing competition, winning and setting a new world record in the 200m individual medley.

He was riding on the crest of a wave. Everything that he touched was literally turning to gold. But he was soon dealt a blow out of the blue that left the triple gold medalist questioning his future in the sport.

Re-classified

In March 2018, the swimming star received news that as part of new IPC rules, he would be moved from the S8 classification that he’d competed in for his whole career, up to the S9 category. It was a major blow.

“It was pretty devastating,” says Hynd. “It was just a really difficult time and I didn’t really understand it or have the answers for it.

“You’re swimming against people with less of an impairment, I guess. If you were comparing it to fighting, it would be like moving up a weight class.

“It was really difficult because I’d been obsessed with my craft, and everything has got to be focused around it, so when that all happened, my identity was so wrapped up in me as a swimmer. But when that rug was pulled from beneath me, everything went.”

Hynd admits that the experience took its toll on his mental health, too: “It was really challenging and I’m not ashamed to admit it led to some mental health issues as well. It was a challenging year.”

Fellow para-athletes Matt Wylie, Jonathan Fox and Josef Craig retired from their respective sports after also having their classifications controversially changed but Hynd, after much consideration, decided to stick with it.

He says: “I came really, really close [to retiring]. What made it more complicated is that we appealed the decision and that dragged on for a few months afterwards. Until the final decision was made, it was ongoing. But in the summer of 2018, I was really close to calling it a day and saying ‘that’s it, I’m done with the sport’. Really, really close.

“But I didn’t make that decision and a year down the line, I’m happy that I continued. It’s just given me a bit more perspective I think – not just in swimming, but in life in general. There’s so much more to the sport and to life than just the gold medals”

The future

Hynd’s focus is now firmly on qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics, with the all-important trials taking place in April. Despite fears that the coronavirus outbreak might delay or even lead to the cancellation of the Games, the three-time champion only has one thing on his mind.

“You’ve just got to trust the powers that be to make the right decision [about the Games going ahead]. The health and well-being of athletes is the most important thing, so I’m sure that they’ll make the right decision.

“I’m just giving 100% in my training and focusing on Tokyo. I’ve also already been selected for the European Championships in May. So, again, that’s just the focus again in my training, making sure I’m ready for those as well.”

Beyond that, Hynd is still undecided about what his future entails. He’s dipped his toe in the water of motivational speaking but maintains that, in an ideal world, he’d still like to remain in swimming in some capacity.

“I still think I’ll be involved in the sport in some regard whatever happens,” he says.

“I’m just passing on that message and hopefully inspiring people to make positive changes in their life. Whether that be in sport or anything else, it’s something that I’m really passionate about so that’s definitely that’s going to be in my future.”

‘I decided to text my coach and quit. It was my lowest point’

Ryan Crouch admits he came close to giving up the sport he loves last year, having grown frustrated as health problems took their toll on his confidence and abilities.

The two-time cerebral palsy world swimming champion recalls: “In December 2014, I had health setbacks that forced me out of the pool. After a few months not training, I decided to text my coach that I would be quitting. It was the lowest point of my life.”

But after taking a break and clearing his head, the Essex-born Paralympian realised he needed to be back in the water and doing what he’s does best.

“In April 2015, after a few other issues outside of the pool and health aside, I decided I missed swimming too much. Added to this, I was asked to compete at the Cerebral Palsy World Games and it was an opportunity I simply couldn’t refuse.

“For the first time in a while I really had something to focus on, and just four months later I found myself in the England cerebral palsy team and took two golds in Nottingham.”

Missed out

Fast forward to this summer, and Crouch found himself lining up in the 50m freestyle final in his classification (S9) at the 2016 Paralympics, having won his heat.

He finished down in eighth place, but just getting to Rio has fuelled his desire to compete again on disabled sport’s biggest stage in Tokyo 2020.

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Crouch wins his heat in Rio

“Rio was like something I have never seen before, the Brazilian fans were incredible, so loud and so passionate. My parents being there and watching me take on the world was so important for me.

“They have always been so supportive of my dreams and ambitions as a swimmer.”

The only sour note in his Paralympic experience came when the 22-year-old missed out on selection for the relay team.

“It was a big blow not being selected for something I’ve always wanted to be a part of,” he says about what is still clearly a subject that rankles with him.

“The most important thing for me is I was happy with my individual 50m and 100m freestyle performances in Rio, and it has given me a taste for more international success.”

Hero

As well as the family and friends who have backed him all the way, another person who Crouch hopes will cheering him on towards the 2020 Games is his hero James Hickman.

“The disappointment of missing out on my home games added fuel to the fire for Rio”

He’s never forgotten how the five-time world champion took time out to offer him some encouragement when he met him as a boy.

“I was just 11 years old at the time,” he told me. “I was training at Harwich & Parkeston Swimming Club, which was my club at the time, and he came to have a talk with us.

“I remember him sitting me down individually and giving me the most inspiring chat about his experiences and his journey.

“But the most important thing I learnt from James was to maintain the love for swimming.

“He gave me a motivational CD to play in the car too, and it really did all start from there. That is when my Olympic dream started.”

Tattoo

Having missed out on the London 2012 Paralympics, Crouch, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, celebrated his Rio adventure with an Olympic rings tattoo – a permanent reminder of his call-up to compete on the global stage.

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Crouch’s tattoo

“The disappointment of missing out on my home games added fuel to the fire for Rio, and it’s a tattoo I said I would always get if I ever made it there.

“It’s the biggest and best achievement of my life so far, and one I want to remember forever – the tattoo is the perfect way to depict it.

“My other tattoo ‘Forever Young’ is dedicated to my late cousin and grandad who supported my dream so much and were sadly taken too early.

“Every time I step into the pool, it’s for them and they are always so close to my heart.”

Coaching

Crouch dedicates a lot of his time to coaching others, and believes it is a major part of his progression as a swimmer.

“When I look back to before I started coaching, I was very young and didn’t understand the sport like I do now,” he explained. “These last five years of coaching has really opened my eyes to it all.

“Swimming can be a very lonely sport, like any individual sport, so the high points are something I cherish a lot”

“I love helping to improve and inspire others, it’s what gets me up in the morning, knowing that I am making a difference, and I definitely see my future in coaching in the long term.”

Having sampled one Paralympics, however, he’s hoping he’s got plenty more to offer as a competitor at the highest level.

“Of course I am aiming to compete at the next Games but for me, it’s about breaking down my aims into the short term,” he said.

“That includes maintaining my love for swimming and to go to the World Championships qualifiers in July next year and consequently make the team for Mexico.

“Keeping that burning desire for swimming deep inside of me is so important for me and any swimmer. Swimming can be a very lonely sport, like any individual sport, so the high points are something I cherish a lot.”

‘Peace starts at the dinner table’

Ella Simola has swum at the Finland Junior Championships, tried her hand at karate, Muay Thai and MMA and is about to begin boxing training. She is also a vegan.

The 21-year-old from Tampere made the switch to a fully plant-based diet at the age of 15.

“I had always been an animal lover – just like any other kid, I would have never wanted to hurt them,” she told me. “But it was hard to make that connection as our society sees animals as products. One day I accidentally saw a part of a documentary about slaughterhouses, and I was shocked.”

Horrified by the cruelty she had witnessed, she started doing research about changing her diet.

“I transitioned to vegetarianism at first, and when I was a bit more familiar with nutrition and such, I went fully vegan. It was the best decision of my life.”

Switching to a plant-based diet not only put the young adolescent’s conscience at rest, but it also boosted her swimming.

Restored

“It seemed like my body had been waiting for me to change to this diet all along. I noticed a change in my energy levels immediately,” Ella said.

“I didn’t feel a need to take a nap before training anymore, and my swimming felt easier. Also, my skin got clearer.”

“My love for martial arts comes from the same reason why veganism appeals to me as a lifestyle so strongly- the goal to live a peaceful life. And peace always starts at the dinner table”

Ella is an advocate for everyone at least trying veganism.

“There’s a lot of research suggesting that plant-based diet is the healthiest choice, but also a lot against it, although most of this is basically propaganda, as meat, dairy and egg industries are big gold mine after all.

“From my own experience I can say that I have never felt better. I sleep better, have energy to work out and have restored a healthy relationship with food.

“I have heard many people tell how they have cured from eating disorders with the help of a vegan diet. A lot of athletes, also bodybuilders, do great as vegans and are able to build muscle without any problems.

“I have also learnt to listen to my body’s needs now, and know how to nourish myself with the right foods.”

Direction

In 2010, Ella also took another radical turn in her life, this time deciding to give up swimming for the Koovee Club even though she had excelled in the pool.

“I quit because I just didn’t feel like I could stay dedicated to it any longer. I trained seven times a week and basically didn’t have any free time.

“It was a huge thing for me to quit, because swimming had been my whole life for eight years, and it had provided me with such amazing memories.

“I don’t regret my decision, though, because afterwards I had time to invest my energy to other things. I found out that I was talented in other sports and I started enjoying training again. ”

Martial arts became her focus , and she initially took up karate.

Fascinated

“When I quit competitive sports and left swimming behind me, I became fascinated with self-defence. I discovered David Meyer, who does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and speaks proudly about animal rights,” she said.

“Inspired by him I did karate, Thai boxing and MMA. The thing about these sports is not that you become more violent, but that you learn to avoid confrontations.

“My love for martial arts comes from the same reason why veganism appeals to me as a lifestyle so strongly – the goal to live a peaceful life. And peace always starts at the dinner table.”

Ella’s next sporting challenge is boxing: “I have totally fallen in love with boxing and I do want to compete in it. Considering my combat background, I hope it will happen soon.”