The Sporting Question: Emma Hollis

“It is always in the back of your mind that you shouldn’t push yourself too much and injure yourself further,” Emma Hollis reflects, looking back upon an ankle break last November that in the intervening months has seen her become a formidable component in Great Britain’s Paralympics swimming team.

“There’s been many a time when I’ve put my feet on the wall at a turn and thought I’m actually only going to push-off with the one just in case,” she says. Yet if her success in July’s European Championships is anything to go by this concern has been banished from the psyche long ago. Sitting poolside at the Loughborough Swimming Centre whilst the likes of Liam Tancock stroll past having completed their training and others hover around preparing for their time in the water, you can see Hollis actively soaking up the atmosphere, readying herself for a gruelling two-hour session. But it’s been a quick learning curve for the 19-year-old to reach this stage; her first competition back following injury admittedly went “diabolically” wrong.

“It was all going really well up until November when I slipped off a curb and broke my ankle. I was in a cast for a month or so but still going to the gym. Then I managed to get back in the water just before Christmas, where I was building up to a number of trials,” Hollis says, before recounting her first race, “It was awful. I had a lot of stuff going on at the time and I really wasn’t very well. I made the mistake of going into it with higher expectations than I possibly should have had – so I was more disappointed.”

However, a poor showing at the British trials wasn’t to be repeated. Only two weeks later in the first of two European Championship trials Hollis, spurred on, made a remarkable comeback, swimming a six second personal best in the 400m freestyle.

“The results from the first really kicked me into gear and I knew I had to do something about it. I was absolutely chuffed qualifying for my first event on the first day and the rest of the trials just went really well from there.”

For most students the summer is spent relaxing, enjoying the comforts of home and living for that one week away in the sun. But there are always exceptions to the norm, and Hollis is one of them. Her break between completing one academic year and beginning another never materialised.

Leaving for Berlin to compete in the European Championships the day after finishing her summer exams – in what would prove to be her most impressive performance to date and help earn a nomination at the Speedo Splash Awards 2011 against the likes of Tom Daley – Hollis doesn’t have time to rest.

“It is going to be a bit crazy. There’s no missing a single session now, no holidays or long weekends away – it is a really daunting prospect. I bet by the time it [the 2012 Paralympics] comes around I will be so ready for them – I’ve just got to do it. We’ve got various camps and competitions, and then there are the trials in March and the second in April. So we don’t even know who will be swimming [in the Paralympics] until then.”

Her performance in Berlin demonstrated Hollis’ unnerving level of concentration and resolve, two crucial characteristics required in her endeavour to make it through the trials and compete in London next year.  Over the course of six days Hollis featured in five different disciplines reaching the finals in all and making her way to collect three bronze and two silver medals from the podium.

“I didn’t really know going into the Europeans due to the ankle injury and new training regime how I was going to do,” she  candidly admits, “I just did a lot better than I thought [I would].” But there’s a much deeper, psychological aspect behind her European success, one that all individual athletes possess – sheer unconditional determination to constantly improve.

And it is this relentless pursuit for progression – and not simply medals – that is guiding Hollis to succeed as she vies for a place at next summer’s Paralympics.

“It is all nice and well winning gold medals but if I’m five seconds behind my best then there’s something not quite right there. If you come last but smash your personal best then that is a massive goal. Obviously you’re gonna [sic] want to win medals but it is all very personal based. If I get to do five events next summer then I want to achieve five personal bests.”

Reprinted from Label Online. Photography by Thomas Mundy.

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