Swimmer finished fifth in the 50m butterfly S6 final after almost being forced into retirement
Missing out on a medal can sometimes be a story of triumph, not defeat, and there is no greater example than Ellie Robinson.
The 20-year-old swimmer lifted the lid on a torrid 12 months in an emotional TV interview that had many at home reaching for the tissues, describing the hip disease that is wrecking her career and the iron-clad resolve it took just to reach Tokyo.
Five years ago, a 15-year-old Robinson was one of the faces of the Rio Paralympics, her gangster entrance and gold-medal performance earning her the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award.
But in the background lay a ticking clock, with Perthes’ disease in her right hip slowly eating away at her career.
It regressed during the Covid lockdown, leaving her unable to train between December and May. Doctors said her career was over, while in Tokyo she revealed she requires a hip replacement at some stage in the future.
Retirement seemed the only option but Robinson was too determined to go out in her terms and somehow made the plane for Japan. Though she missed out on a podium in the 50m butterfly S6 final, she says just making it to the start line was a victory.
“In 2012, I was diagnosed with Perthes’ disease in my right hip. I’ve spoken to physios and they’ve said they don’t know how I’ve been able to keep swimming,” she said after finishing fifth.
“Over the past year I’ve had so many problems with my hip. I always thought a Perthes hip has a finite amount of time left, and I think over the past year I’ve run out of time.
“I think if the Games were last year it would have been a different story. I had two failed hip injections, different medications, but nothing worked. I didn’t swim any butterfly from December to May.
“I thought that I would be more upset than this but I came here to make the final, and I’m still in the top five. I was in a really low point in my life and people were saying, ‘it’s ok to finish, you don’t need to carry on’. And I said, ‘it’s not going to finish this way, I’m going to carry on’.
“Even though I didn’t win a medal I went out on my terms. I’m just so proud of myself for getting so far. This is a story of triumph not of defeat.”
Robinson first feared her career was over following the 2018 Commonwealth Games, when her hip condition worsened. It eventually passed and she was hoping the same would happen again when it regressed again during last year’s Covid lockdown.
The physical pain was difficult to manage, while the mental impact of having her career taken away from her was also severe as she revealed she has been seeing a psychiatrist and given medication.
“I went for a drive with my dad on the day I was told the two hip injections had failed, there was no medication that could work and that there were no other options left,” she said.
“We drove past the pool that I was talent spotted in in 2012. It had me in tears it was heartbreaking. But I’m really thankful for that past year because it taught me so much about perspective.
“To see how low I was six months ago, when I drove past that pool in Duston I would never have believed I got to a Paralympic Games. If I could go back in time and tell that girl that it was going to be okay, I would.
“Because it really is okay, and I’m so so happy. These are happy tears, because I’m so relieved and so proud.”
Though this was not confirmation of the end of Robinson’s swimming career, it certainly felt like it. But a bright future still beckons.
“Obviously being a sports person and a swimmer, I am ambitious, so I am now looking towards the next chapter and I am doing a history and politics degree,” she added.
“I would love to pursue a career in something like that.”
Honest and likeable, she’d make for a refreshing change.
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