Disabled swimmer has Games glory in her sights

Danielle Bailey was just four when she had to have her legs amputated after contracting meningitis – but now the teenager could be on the road to Paralympic Games glory.

She spent months in hospital, first losing her legs below the knee and later having her knees and hands amputated.

However, but after tentatively starting to swim just a year ago she has not looked back and has already become a gold-medal winner.

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Under the close eye of instructor Chris Silverwood, she has mastered breaststroke, backstroke, front crawl and the butterfly.

The 13-year-old has slashed her times by as much as half-a-minute in under six months and is said to be three years ahead of most able-bodied swimmers.

Danielle, who is categorised as an S4 swimmer – disability classifications range from S1 to S15 with S1 being the most serious – won her first gold medal at the disability sports events national junior swimming championship in February.

This week, her coach revealed she is now reaching world class times in her training.

If she repeats such times at the ASA youth national swimming championships in Sheffield next week – where she is swimming the S4 breaststroke alone because she is the only one to reach the qualifying time – Danielle has been told she will be accepted on to the world class talent programme and be on the road to the Paralympics.

She will however have competition when she enters the 50m backstroke event. Her rival is Fran Williamson, the event’s world champion.

Danielle said: “I was nervous at the start but when I get in and start to swim I feel free. It’s the best sport for me to do and makes me feel capable and independent.

“I’ve won lots of medals and I really, really enjoy it. My favourite stroke is the front crawl. It would make me really proud to one day be in the Paralympics.”

Danielle’s mother, Lindsay said: “We’ve only just realised how good she is at swimming because she was so laid back and modest about it.

“She would just casually say ‘I’ve won a race’ or ‘I’ve won a medal,’ and it wasn’t until we spoke to Chris that we realised quite how talented she is.

“She’s such a happy-go-lucky girl and she said she absolutely loved swimming, but it then became clear that she is at home in the pool and is brilliant at it.

“We don’t want to put too much pressure on her at this stage talking about the Paralympics, but it is definitely something she is aiming for.”

Danielle, lives with her mother Lyndsay, 29 a forensic psychology student and her father Trevor, 40, who is her full-time carer in Otley, near Leeds They have four other daughters – Tia, 10, Jamie-Lee, eight, Mya, seven, and Summer, three

Danielle swims three times a week for 90 minutes, practising all four of the recognised strokes – breaststroke, backstroke, front crawl and the butterfly.

In 2002, she spent five months in hospital and doctors made the heartbreaking decision to amputate her legs below the knee to save her life. Her knees and hands were removed later.

Harrogate Borough Council swimming development manager Chris Silverwood began one-to-one coaching last June at the town’s pool and he has repeatedly been astounded by her natural ability.

He confirmed that her times were similar to those he would expect of an average able-bodied 16-year-old swimmer.

“A year ago she was a novice swimmer and now she is a national youth level athlete. Her progress has been fantastic, especially when you consider her disability which is very severe for swimming, and her young age.

“There are only a handful of S4 swimmers in the country, for someone to swim with none of their limbs, and swim well, is extremely rare.

“At the start she did not know how to do the strokes but she seemed to move well through the water, and picked up all the skills very quickly. Every time I taught her something new she grasped it almost immediately.

“She swims with the same technique as an able-bodied swimmer although she does have to accentuate her movements because she hasn’t got any legs.

“She also helps break down people’s misconceptions. When they see her on the blocks ready to dive in alongside able-bodied swimmers they can’t imagine how she can compete but she does, and wins.”