What is it like being a modern professional athlete? What are the pressures you feel outside of performance?
I feel very honoured to be a professional athlete, taking part in a sport that I love so much every single day. I’m so grateful for the opportunities the sport has given me, such as having a home Paralympic Games in London, which was an incredible moment – not just in my career, but in my life. With events like that does come pressure; pressure from the public and governing bodies, but mainly from myself. There is also always pressure to maintain fitness and be at your peak physically outside of competition season, as well as looking for new ways in which you can keep bettering yourself. But I pride myself on thriving on pressure and I suppose it does make me work harder and keeps me motivated during those long days in the middle of a Paralympic cycle.
Did you have sporting role models when you started? Do you now feel that responsibility?
Yes, definitely! My role model was Nyree Lewis (now Nyree Kindred). It was watching her win the S6 100-metre backstroke at the Athens 2004 Paralympics that inspired me to want to be a Paralympic swimmer and achieve my dreams. I do understand that others may look up to me and perhaps take their inspiration from all of us Paralympians and Olympians. That is why I feel it is so important that we set a good example both within our sports and within our lives generally.
How does dealing with the media impact you as a sports star – how important is it?
The media brings what we do to public attention, so we as athletes must speak to them and deal with them as part of our job as an elite athlete. But I am very grateful for what the media has given me – such as going on TV shows and meeting people. As athletes, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who promote our sports and enable us to do what we love.
How do you like to communicate with fans? Is that changing?
I like talking to people face to face – it makes a real difference to me being around them, fans really help inspire me to push on to be the best that I can be. There is a lot more contact through social media these days as well, like Facebook and Twitter, and this has changed a lot since 2008 – the Beijing Games – which were the first Games I went to. I try to visit schools as much as I possibly can. When I do, I love seeing the looks on the children’s faces when they hold my gold medal or hear stories about other athletes and competitions. I know I would have loved that as a child, and hopefully it can inspire someone to achieve their dreams, whatever that dream may be.
What impact can sports stars make when they decide to speak out on causes or issues they believe in? Should they do more of it?
Anyone in the public eye can make a difference if they support a particular cause. I think that if you feel strongly about something you should say what you feel and try to bring it to the attention of as many people as you can.