Four-time London Paralympics gold medallist Ellie Cole on the shock of being a champion. By Richard Cooke.


Gold rush: Ellie Cole, 23, swimmer and wheelchair basketball player

My archrival is also my role model. Not many people have that. I met Natalie du Toit [of South Africa] for the first time at the 2006 IPC Swimming World Championships. Earlier my coach had told me, “Get mad at her.” Later, I looked at her and thought, “I can’t get mad at this woman I don’t even know.” We got talking and she was really lovely and one of the very few people who like to talk in the call room before we go out for racing. We’ve kept each other calm for my entire swimming career. Even though I wanted to beat her all the time. It’s a weird relationship.

My disability affects me more as I get older. When I was young, I was really oblivious to the fact I was very different and that something really bad happened to me. I never got upset over it as a kid. Now, getting older, I guess I’m in tune with my emotions a bit more. I’ve never been affected by having cancer and it’s never really upset me. But recently I watched The Fault in Our Stars and cried my eyes out.

No one just looks at my face before they look at my leg. People offer to carry my bags for me and things like that, and it is nice. But it does frustrate me. One guy apologised to me for being a smoker. Like he was somehow responsible. 

I hugged Oscar Pistorius. I’ve been a big fan of his since I was very young, and I was devastated when I heard about what had happened. But I had the biggest crush on him in London in 2012. I saw him in the village and just ran up to him – he didn’t even know who I was – and just flung my arms around him. There is a lot of gossip because, I guess, that’s the biggest news the Paralympics has ever had. Unfortunately it’s been for the wrong reasons.

I don’t like racing against able-bodied swimmers. I don’t know why, but I don’t race as well. They annoy me for some reason.

I always forget I’m a Paralympian. For example, I was doing a motivational talk the other week, and I looked at a video of my races and thought, “That actually happened.” A few times I’ve caught myself lying in bed, saying: “I’m a gold medallist. What the hell?”

The gold medals hadn’t really meant that much to me before, because I hadn’t really sat down and thought about them. I went ice skating, and I saw this little girl – she was about nine. She was doing twirls and actually had incredible skills. I was watching this girl for quite a while and I just started crying. My friend came over and said, “Are you PMSing or something?” But I was looking at her thinking, “She could go to the Olympics one day, and she could win a gold medal. How exciting!” And then I thought, “I went to a Paralympics and I won a gold medal.” Then I thought about the journey that she’s going to have and everything she’s going to experience. I think that’s one of the first times I’ve ever just appreciated what I’ve done.

I’ve had a kid ask me if you can swim in the Paralympics if you’ve got no head. Little kids can ask strange things. I had another one ask me if two people in a wheelchair have a baby, will the baby come out in a wheelchair too. I was talking to a group of schoolchildren. A prep boy in the front row, who was only five, told me he had part of his willy amputated when he was born. He meant he was circumcised.

I met this guy at uni named Hamish. I could tell he was a swimmer because his hair was dead. We ended up dating, and my swimming coach tried absolutely everything he could in his power to break us up, because he didn’t want that distraction there for me. He was absolutely horrible to him, but we’re still friends. We did stop dating in the end, though. The coach always wins at the AIS.

Swimmer problems? Every night I would have to soak myself in prescription-grade moisturiser. Because your skin flakes off, you look like a snake that’s shedding. No clubbing, no partying, no boyfriends. I’m surprised I still have friends to be honest.

1 . This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: ICC World Cup – New Zealand v Australia

Today, noon AEDT, Eden Park, Auckland

• Soccer: A-League – Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC

Today, 7.30pm, Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta

• AFL: NAB Challenge – Gold Coast Suns v Geelong

Tomorrow, 4.40pm AEDT, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville

• Basketball:

WNBL finals series – Bendigo v Sydney Uni Flames 

Tomorrow, 3pm, Bendigo Stadium

NBL finals series – Perth v Cairns 

Tomorrow, 9.30pm AEDT, Perth Arena

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 28, 2015 as "Gold rush".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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