Inspiring paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds is preparing to wow the nation on Strictly – yet she is already being bullied online.
Brave Ellie, however, who struck gold five times in the paralympics, refuses to let the trolls’ nasty comments take the shine off becoming the show’s first contestant with dwarfism.
The athlete, 27, who won 2008’s BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, hopes to show fans they can achieve anything.
She said the bullies’ cruel words had upset her but she refuses to let them knock her down.
Ellie said: “I’ve had it already. Some people have said ‘How’s the dwarf going to dance?’ It’s sad and it does get to you.
“But from that one comment, there are so many other amazing comments.”
Ellie has received good-luck messages from people all over the world in the build-up to Saturday’s launch. She said: “People who have reached out to me – it’s been so touching.
“If only I had this as a child, watching someone with dwarfism on a dancing show. I never even thought I’d do Strictly.
“When I got the call I was like ‘wow’. I never thought I’d get the opportunity.
“It’s so out of my comfort zone. I know I swim in front of millions of people but dancing is different.
“I’m used to wet hair, chlorine, swimming costumes.
“When I got the call I did wonder whether I should do it. Then I thought I’d do a leap of faith. You don’t know until you try.”
This week the 15 celebrities – including Bros singer Matt Goss, 53, and presenter Helen Skelton, 39 – had their first taste of the Strictly, with rehearsals for their group number. Ellie knows it will be a different experience for her.
She said: “I’m not going to be like any other celeb, with that partnership where you can hold each other.
“But if I can do it, there are going to be so many others out there watching it thinking I can do it.”
She’s been taking tips from US reality star Terra Jolé, 42, who has dwarfism and in 2016 appeared on Dancing With The Stars, the US version of Strictly.
Ellie said: “Terra has been amazing. We’ve been messaging each other. If I can do it, people watching will be like ‘We can do it too’.” Ellie said that the diligent Strictly team has adapted the studio to fit her needs.
She said: “They got me smaller clothes rail.
“It’s little things like that to make me comfortable so I don’t have to reach for everything.
“It’s never been like that previously.”
She said: “It’s amazing for disability representation and moving forward.”
First up for Ellie to prepare for the live show is breaking in her heels. She said: “This morning I was wearing them while brushing my teeth.”
In 2008, aged just 13, Ellie became Britain’s youngest ever athlete to compete in the Summer Paralympics.
She won two gold medals at the Games in Beijing, China.
Ellie, made an OBE in 2009, struck gold twice more at 2012’s London Paralympics and won a fifth, four years later, in Rio, Brazil.
She will be taking that winning mindset into Strictly and hopes to do well in the contest.
She said: “Being an athlete, it’s about coping under the pressure, like in London 2012, the pressure on home athletes was huge.
“So knowing I could do it then, I can do it now. I’m going to use those skills on Strictly.”
- Strictly Come Dancing launch show is on BBC One on Saturday at 6.10pm.