Retirement - the start of a new chapter

I knew after Rio that I could be ready to step away from competitive sport, but I needed a few months to think things over and to use some time to come to a decision. I want to leave at the top – undefeated European Champion over 6 years and Paralympic champion in the 50m Butterfly at Rio 2016. From fourth in London, to Gold in Rio, it was a journey of learning, challenges and ultimately immense happiness. Being awarded an MBE recently in the New Year’s honours was a final perfect way to round off 8 years at the top. I leave the sport with 30 international medals and I am proud of my swimming career. It is time for me to step away and to allow other areas of my life to develop as I am getting involved more and more with external projects. I always knew that the day would come when I would want to move on and to return to developing myself into a future leader and to use the other professional skills that I have developed alongside competing as an elite athlete. I feel honoured to have represented my country, to have made it to the top of the podium many times and lucky to have raced against the best. I wish them and the rest of the Paralympic movement huge amounts of luck and success in the future, I really believe strongly in the Paralympics and everything it represents and I hope to remain involved in sport for years to come.
I want to thank the people I have met, the coaches and staff that I have worked with and the incredible people I have raced against over the years. I will miss the incredible moments with my lovely team mates, but I will never forget the amazing memories that we shared. I will never stop swimming; I love it too much, but for now, my racing days are over. Thank you to my family and friends who have supported me and to Steve Bratt, Ron Philpot and Terry Smith at the start of my career and Tony Beckley at the end for all their help. And to Keith Morgan, who has trained me in the gym since day one. 

“What appears to be the end, may really be a new beginning”

Receiving my MBE at Buckingham Palace

I won't forget Friday 17th February any time soon... I got ready in the morning in my flat and put on my outfit and most importantly, my hat, and headed to the Mall with my Mother as I prepared to receive my MBE for services to Para Swimming at Buckingham Palace. I was very excited but nervous when I arrived. I always find it strange when you are allowed to walk through the Gates and the crowds are watching you and taking photos! It is a surreal experience.

It was lovely to see some of the Hockey ladies there too; Kate and Helen Richardson Walsh, as well as some of my Para swimming team mates again. We nervously were ushered into a separate room upstairs and talked through the protocol along with the other guests. Trying to remember what you have to do is possibly the hardest part, along with how to address the Royal family! The Prince of Wales was awarding the honours today which made it extremely special for all the attendees. As I waited for my surname to walk out, I looked around the Ball Room (I have never been upstairs in the Palace before although I have been a few times now!) and took in the beautiful music played by the Orchestra as I came out (it was Coldplay "When I ruled the World" I think it is called!). It was a magical moment, over so quickly but a wonderful feeling to have recognition from my years of competing and working hard from the bottom to the very top.

The Prince of Wales spoke briefly to me about my medal haul and how long I have been swimming for and in a brief moment it was over, just like my win in Rio. There are some wonderful moments in life and they are so fleeting, but you value them more because of that. I was lucky to be there today and to share it with some of the people that have been a part of my journey, because I didn't do it alone. So I guess I want to say thank you. To everyone who helped me to get there and along the way. Here's to the next Chapter!

New Year, new me...!

So 2016 brought me a huge amount of joy and happy memories, interspersed with hardship and challenges... Life is never a smooth path but I was lucky enough to reach a beautiful end to a wonderful year of competition. I won my Gold at Rio 2016 after many years of working and trying, but not quite getting there. I appreciate that not everyone gets there as well and that is what makes me most grateful. As I move forward I have been drawing on support from those around me and guidance.. I have taken up 10 minutes of daily mindfulness and gentle breathing meditation. It is amazing how calming it is. I would recommend it to anyone who is at a crossroads in their life, at the start of something new or even facing a challenge. Centering yourself and looking after and cherishing "you" is essential. None of us do this enough in our busy lives....