People and Places
Ellie Cole makes an impressive splash
by Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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Ellie Cole

Ellie Cole

When Ellie Cole was a little girl at Mount Eliza North Primary School, it was beyond her wildest imaginings that by age 29 she would be Australia’s most decorated female Paralympian, winning 17 medals from four Games. At two years old, Ellie was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare cancer. To save her life, Ellie’s leg was amputated. Eight weeks later her mum Jenny enrolled Ellie in swimming lessons to help her rehabilitation. 

In 2006, Ellie was in Year 9 at Frankston High when she went to South Africa to compete in the IPC Swimming World Championships. At just 14 she won silver. Today Ellie is a freestyle and backstroke champion and the role model she didn’t have growing up. Featured in the Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix, Ellie is proud to be part of the global Paralympic movement, changing the way the world thinks about disability, excellence, diversity, and human potential. Nikki Fisher caught up with her.

Did you always know you wanted to be a pro athlete?
Never. Swimming was one of the few sports I was able to participate in that didn’t require a prosthetic to wear. I was a very adventurous child – playing outside after breakfast until the sun went down. My twin sister and I loved being outdoors. We spent all day exploring round a reserve in Mount Eliza. During my childhood I never would have guessed that I’d grow up to become a professional athlete.

Can you tell us a bit about the joys and the lowlights?
I can tell you straight away that the lowlights are the early mornings. I’m not a morning person. I rely heavily on routine. Getting out of bed for training just became a habit similar to brushing your teeth. Another challenge of being an athlete is working with those who drop the ball in your sporting team. Most athletes are very passionate and know what we want, and sometimes experts come on board and try to walk you down a different path. That can be very challenging, and you can question constantly if your training program is ‘best practice’ a number of times throughout your career. This has taught me to always follow my instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. There are many joys. The sense of achievement, understanding the impact that the Paralympic community has on our world, bonding with your team and surrounding yourself with like-minded people is a wonderful way to live.

You’ve said the Peninsula will always have your heart. Why?
The best memories of my life were all made on the Mornington Peninsula. No matter how long I’ve been away or what I’ve achieved in my life so far, I return to the Mornington Peninsula and feel right at home. Most of my friends from school still live there. When I spend time with them, it feels as though I never left. The world of sport can sometimes be all-consuming. You feel as though there’s always more to chase and no matter what you’ve achieved, people always want bigger and better things from you. It’s a very commercial world. Coming home to the Mornington Peninsula is like hitting a refresh button to get back in touch with who you really are. It’s a reminder of the family values and the sense of community that doesn’t get the attention it deserves when you’re in the sporting world for too long.

The pandemic has been tough on everyone. Do you have any advice for readers wanting to overcome challenges in their life right now?
It’s cliched, but the process of taking things one day at a time is a great way to approach challenges that feel overwhelming. Being a professional athlete is very fast paced, and you can feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. In sports psychology, I learnt to ask myself “What can I do today that will help me towards my goal?” It’s a process-driven focus rather than a ‘results’-based focus, and it really works.

You’ve said Tokyo was your last Games. In the long term, what do you think your life will look like after swimming?
It’s very exciting. Who knows? I just follow my instinct.

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