Ellie Simmonds has left the swimming pool behind her and is taking Strictly Come Dancing by storm in her first major career move since retiring after the Tokyo Paralympic Games last summer.
The winner of five Paralympic gold medals, who also set a world swimming record, is hoping to further raise awareness of disabilities through the platform of Strictly, with previous contestants including a number of Paralympians before last year's winner actress Rose Ayling-Ellis, who is profoundly deaf, claimed the glitterball trophy.
“If only I had this as a child, watching someone with dwarfism on a dancing show… it’s amazing for disability representation and moving forward," she has said.
So, let's get to know Ellie Simmonds a bit more:
How old is Ellie Simmonds and where is she from?
Born to parents Val and Steve, Ellie grew up in Walsall in the West Midlands and was the youngest of five children, of whom Ellie and her sister Katie — five years her senior — had dwarfism, which can be caused by recessive genes. Ellie is now aged 27. She will turn 28 in November.
Ellie and dwarfism
Having been born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, Ellie is 4ft tall.
Ellie, who loved school and said she has never been bullied, said her parents Steve, an environmental consultant, and Val, both average-sized, were "always super positive" and would tell her "there might be times when you get stared at in the street, but you’re just different and that’s great".
She admits it is "sometimes annoying" that the world is built for only tall people, adding: "When I go down the shops, I ask people to reach me something that’s on the high shelves and they’re so helpful.” She’s never been bullied. “I loved school, loved it.”
Who is Ellie Simmonds' boyfriend?
Ellie and her boyfriend Matt, who works for an insurance company, live in Cheshire after moving to a village in the area this year for a slower pace of life. They are hoping to get a dog, while Ellie wants chickens too.
Ellie joked that she has "piled on the pounds" since retiring, and nowadays swims for around 20 minutes per week to clear her mind and completes three gym sessions.
Ellie and Matt, who also has dwarfism, had been planning a road trip around the USA when she got the call to be on Strictly.
Ellie has joked that Matt "doesn’t have a clue about swimming”, previously saying: "The other day I was going outdoor swimming and he said, 'will you be OK? There’s been a lot of drownings lately'. I was like, ‘Er, do you know what I’ve done?’ I think he meant it in a jokey way, he’s so caring. He looks after me. He’s quiet and I’m more sociable, but they say opposites attract."
When did Ellie Simmonds start swimming?
Ellie began swimming aged five and competed against average-size children from eight. She has since admitted she wanted to she was just as good as anyone else.
She has always loved swimming and the sea since she first went on caravan holidays in Wales. "Having always been an active child, I always wanted to be doing something and swimming just fitted as I wanted to be safe around the water learning but also it was fun doing it after school with all my friends. I think it was that natural click while watching Athens 2004 when I was inspired that if I wanted to go to a Games, I needed to put hard work and effort into it, it was a natural progression from something after school to becoming an athlete."
She won her first Paralympic medal aged 13 in Beijing in 2008. A year later she became the youngest recipient of an MBE, in 2013 elevated to an OBE.
Swimming and learning to see her body as a tool and something to propel her to her dreams is a source of Ellie's positivity. "I’ve grown up having to use my body and having to look after it and keep it fit,” she explained. "Swimming heightened my confidence, because I knew I was good – that just radiates out into my whole personality."
Living in Wales
Ellie spent much of her teenage years in Swansea after relocating to the city aged 11 to take advantage of its world-class swimming pool, where she could train. She lived at Swansea Marina and attended Olchfa Comprehensive School and was partial to a spot of Joe's ice cream and walking in Mumbles and Gower. Ellie was awarded an honorary degree by Swansea University in 2018 and also had her gold-painted post box in the city after London 2012.
Responding to Strictly trolls
Ellie has responded bravely to trolling she received after making her Strictly debut, telling The Sun: "Some people have said, ‘how’s the dwarf going to dance?’ It’s sad and it does get to you.
"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.
"When we go out in the streets and [get] the messages, the support has been amazing. And it touches our heart every single day, the messages that we get from people.
"It means so, so much, and especially doing it together [with dance partner Nikita Kuzmin] in this journey, and not just together, but for everyone out there watching who is in the dwarfism community, disability community or anyone different."
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