Ellie Simpson is blazing a trail both on and off the track but will never forget those storied Paralympic Games of London 2012. A wide-eyed Ellie, just 17, was still studying at Brookfield Community School but watched Sophie Christiansen, Dame Sarah Storey and David Weir capture the hearts of the nation during that scintillating summer of sport.
And it was seeing her heroes scale the Paralympic heights that first ignited Ellie’s passion for sport, joining City of Sheffield and Dearne Athletic Club the following year where she embarked on a journey in club throw.
Two years of development followed before the Chesterfield athlete pivoted towards RaceRunning, not yet a Paralympic sport but a discipline Ellie has sparkled in around the globe. Ellie traces her roots back to those Games of 2012 and hopes to follow in the footsteps of the athletes who first inspired her to begin her sporting odyssey.
“I watched London 2012 and just thought ‘this is so cool!’” Ellie, now 25, said. “I just got hooked on it. From there, I decided that was what I wanted to do. I really aspired to be like Sophie Christiansen - she has the same sort of cerebral palsy as me, and I just thought 'I can do this’.
“I joined my local club just to have a go - I didn’t think I would get anywhere but obviously I have! I can’t really put into words how much sport means to me - I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have it. It’s given me so many different things that other things wouldn’t have done.”
Ellie has enjoyed a thrilling rise on the track, stopping the clock in 39.62s in Manchester last year to break the 200m world record before scooping silver at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. She soared under the Middle Eastern sun but it’s been far from a straightforward rise, with Ellie enduring a turbulent journey managing her workload given her cerebral palsy.
Fatigue often kicks in and represents an obstacle to a conventional schedule, with Ellie being forced to adapt to her condition when she prepares for major events. She built a gym in her garage during lockdown, testament to the pragmatism that’s helped her rise to such heights in her career so far.
“Most of the time my training schedule is fairly easy to manage because I know my body, what will work and what’s not going to work,” she added. “But sometimes it can get a little bit complicated if I’m competing. On the whole, however, I just work around what I know.
“Training during lockdown was interesting - I set up a gym in my garage and trained in there for 10 weeks! It was actually really hard to motivate myself as all the days blended into one. There was no end in sight, and some days were harder than others.”
Ellie is now back in training but can only access a track in Newark, a 60-minute journey from Chesterfield as she awaits the full return of facilities. It’s far from just sport for the 25-year-old, however. After leaving school in 2013, she struggled to find a job and became exposed to the harsh realities of living with a disability.
Those difficulties prompted the founding of charity CP Teens UK, set up by Ellie to help people with cerebral palsy combat ‘social isolation’ and gain enhanced opportunities in the workplace. The charity has gone from strength to strength and Ellie, who continues to manage it on a day-to-day basis, couldn’t be prouder of the progress she’s made.
“I came out of school with decent A-Levels and was raring to go but couldn’t get a job because of my disability,” she reflected. “I started to feel quite socially isolated. No one would give me an opportunity and it was a real eye-opener. I thought ‘surely I can put something together to connect people’.
“It’s just grown and grown ever since. I couldn’t believe how much people have got on board with it all. There’s always something that needs doing but I really enjoy it. It means a lot to me - if I look back on my life before CP Teens UK and sport, I can’t imagine it and don’t know what I did!”
So what comes next for Ellie? Diligently juggling her training commitments with her charity is a difficult balance to strike but with RaceRunning in contention for a Paralympic debut in 2024, the target is obvious. The sport is yet to be added to the Paralympic roster but optimism is building towards its inclusion in Paris, when Ellie will be 29 and have considerable experience.
It’s a combination of training and charity work up until those Games and Ellie is determined to inspire the next generation - both on and off the track.
“I want to bring about more social interaction with my charity – awareness has definitely risen and people are getting more opportunities,” she said. “I hope RaceRunning will make the Paralympics, and if it does, I’d love to represent ParalympicsGB. It would be amazing if I could fly the British flag in France, and that’s definitely one of my main goals.
“It makes me proud to see how much the Paralympic movement has grown. It would be incredible if I could inspire more young girls to get into para sport - I remember the girls that I looked up to at London 2012, and I thought they were amazing. If I can inspire people, that would mean just as much to me as breaking records myself, if people were to look at me and think ‘I want to be like Ellie’.”
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