The se­cret life of El­lie Cole

Women's Health Australia - - DECEMBER 2017 - By Alice El­lis

The six-time gold medal­list opens up about her life as a par­a­lympic ath­lete

fFe­male ath­letes are in­trigu­ing, in­spir­ing, mul­ti­di­men­sional women – it’s not all train­ing, com­pet­ing and bulk-buy pro­tein pow­der. We guar­an­tee they are at least as fas­ci­nat­ing as those other fit­spo chicks you fol­low on In­sta. So, in the lead-up to the Gold Coast Com­mon­wealth Games (April 4–15, 2018), we take a peek in­side their lives and minds. First up, meet Par­a­lympic swim­mer El­lie Cole @el­liecoleswim…

El­lie Cole only has one real leg. Can­cer meant the other one was am­pu­tated when she was three. But not only did she sur­vive, she thrived and doesn’t think she’d be an ath­lete if she had two legs.

“Sport doesn’t really run in my fam­ily; it was just a way to nor­malise my dis­abil­ity grow­ing up. I think that’s where I got it from,” says the 25-year-old, who first com­peted in a Par­a­lympics in Bei­jing, in 2008. “One of my favourite things to do is beat peo­ple with two legs. So I did that a lot as a kid and I think that’s what made me such a suc­cess­ful ath­lete now.”

Get­ting started

The six-time Par­a­lympic gold medal­list was drawn to swim­ming be­cause it was a solo sport. “I did a lot of dif­fer­ent sports as a kid at school. I kind of signed up for all the sports so I could get out of class, like most kids do. But I have this strong mem­ory of be­ing in pri­mary school and play­ing bas­ket­ball, and I re­mem­ber my sports teacher al­most re­fus­ing to put me on the court dur­ing games. I found that really dif­fi­cult.

“I had that … ex­pe­ri­ence a lot go­ing through school – like, I’d be on sport­ing teams and prac­tise with them, but I’d never really be put on dur­ing games. I think that’s why I really en­joyed swim­ming: it was a sport where I could just get in there, I was rep­re­sent­ing my­self and no one could take me out of it.”

Life with a fake leg

Al­though her teach­ers were fo­cused on her dis­abil­ity, Cole wasn’t. “I was really lucky that I had my twin sis­ter, Brit­tany, there as a kid grow­ing up, so what­ever she did, I fol­lowed … So she’s been a very big part of fos­ter­ing that [out­look]. I’m obliv­i­ous to hav­ing a dis­abil­ity, I for­get all the time.”

Ex­cept when things go hay­wire: “I just have bits fall off every now and then,” she says. “I was walk­ing through a su­per­mar­ket a few years ago and I was hav­ing leg prob­lems. I had a plas­tic bag in each hand [when] my leg just … came off. I was stand­ing there hold­ing these plas­tic bags [and] this guy came up to me and was like, ‘Uh, can I help you in any way?’ And I was like, ‘Just grab my leg … Ac­tu­ally, grab these bags, I’ll grab my leg.’ It was so funny.

“But I think one of the big­gest things that [strikes] me is every­body’s surprise at how mo­bile I am. For some rea­son they have this as­sump­tion that be­cause I have a dis­abil­ity I can’t do too much, and that’s really frus­trat­ing. But I think the Par­a­lympics is really good for blow­ing that stigma out of the wa­ter com­pletely.”

Re­al­ity tech

When it comes to mo­bil­ity, she says things are get­ting bet­ter for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties all the time, as pros­thet­ics im­prove.

“Though it is dif­fi­cult be­cause the technology is there but not every­body can af­ford it, and that is a real shame. I’m lucky that Toy­ota has been spon­sor­ing me for al­most two years now. They’re a really big sup­porter of the Par­a­lympics and the Olympics … They’re pro­vid­ing me with this new pros­thetic knee unit that has com­put­ers in it. It’s really fu­tur­is­tic, ac­tu­ally; it repli­cates the nat­u­ral hu­man gait more than any other unit. I’m very, very lucky to be in that po­si­tion. But I’m only one of the 5 mil­lion peo­ple in Aus­tralia with a dis­abil­ity.”

Her favourite things

So, what does Cole do when she’s not train­ing? “I love cook­ing. My mum was ac­tu­ally a cook when I was grow­ing up. She loved try­ing out dif­fer­ent styles. We owned a cafe [in Mel­bourne] so she opened up a whole coeliac sec­tion and ve­gan sec­tion of the cafe. So I ex­per­i­mented with … dif­fer­ent health and whole­some foods a lot when I was a kid.”

Cole also loves cy­cling and rock climb­ing. Oh, and did we men­tion she’s hot on the bas­ket­ball court? “I started do­ing wheel­chair bas­ket­ball after the Lon­don 2012 Par­a­lympics be­cause I wanted to try a dif­fer­ent sport. I just loved the idea of get­ting in a wheel­chair and knock­ing other peo­ple over who were also in wheel­chairs and not feel­ing guilty about it.

“It’s a really rough sport and I found it fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause, in swim­ming, we’re ob­vi­ously com­pletely closed off to the out­side world, we have our faces in the wa­ter and we can’t hear any­thing or see any­thing other than the black line.

And in bas­ket­ball it’s a real team ef­fort, so there’s a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a lot of talk­ing and read­ing the other play­ers. I found that really chal­leng­ing ac­tu­ally, and I fell in love with it be­cause of how com­plex it is and how much the team gets be­hind you.” Cole is cer­tainly show­ing those sports teach­ers what she’s made of. We’d to­tally want her on our team.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.