Paralympic swimmer Ellie Robinson said she had aimed to “reflect the strength of the nation” through the coronavirus pandemic with her hard-fought performance at the Tokyo Games.
The Rio gold medallist finished fifth in the S6 50m butterfly last week after her hip condition worsened, and she compared the uncertainty over her ability to compete at the Paralympics this year to the “world of uncertainty” brought on by coronavirus.
The 20-year-old, who lives with dwarfism and Perthes disease, branded her performance “a story of triumph, not of defeat” at the poolside.
Robinson and other returning athletes took part in an event to inspire children with disabilities to take part in sport, held at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London on Saturday.
The Northampton said of her Tokyo efforts: “I wanted to reflect the strength of the nation.
“I think the nation has been through so much uncertainty this year, and obviously the lead up to the Paralympic Games right until the day it started was quite uncertain with the vaccination rate of the Japanese public.
“For me as well I had all the issues going on in my hip, so not only was I living in a world of uncertainty, but on the inside as well…
“I wanted to give people back control, I wanted to tell people that they can still have power over a situation.
“I wanted to prove that if you can endure heartache you can succeed at the end – things don’t last forever.
“I wanted to prove that you do get to the other side… not only is it the most amazing feeling once you do but it gives you so much strength as well.”
She added: “It takes a really strong person to get through the year that we’ve had and come out the other side, so ‘big yourself up’, in the words of Ali G.”
Robinson said her sporting career had been “absolutely flying” in 2019 and early 2020, and she would have been “in with a shout” of winning a medal if her condition had not worsened.
Speaking about the agonising build up to Tokyo, which was delayed by a year during the pandemic, the swimmer said: “I was hellish for my parents, really. They could see what it was putting me through and they told me, ‘you don’t have to carry on, you can finish, there’s no shame in finishing’.
“And I remember screaming back to them saying: ‘What have I been doing for the last five years if I’m not going to get to the Games? Where’s my life gone if I’m not going to the Games?’
“I do remember saying, ‘I’m not going to be defeated by this, if I have to crawl to the block on my hands and knees, I will do it.’”
Robinson said her family were “so so happy” and “relieved” when she took fifth place, adding that she has “the most supportive parents I could ever imagine”.
“We go through everything together, we feel all these emotions together, and that’s why it meant so much for them,” she said.
We argue as a family, we achieve, and we succeed as a family together. We got through the year together and not only did we get through the year – we kicked ass.”
Robinson, who like many other Paralympians has been partly supported by the National Lottery, said she will spend the first year of her retirement from competitive sport studying for a history and politics degree.