YOUNG swimmer Megan Atkinson is being inspired by Paralympian Ellie Simmonds to make a big splash in her sport.
The 11-year-old took up swimming after seeing the soaraway success of Ellie’s career and she has already scooped a host of medals after just two years of competing.
The girls both have achondraplsia, a bone growth disorder which causes dwarfism, and have become pals after meeting at competitions.
Megan will be cheering on Ellie, 17, at this summer’s Paralympic Games, in London, and has tickets for the finals at London’s Aquatic Centre.
The pair took part in a training session and the Paralympic gold medal winner offered Megan, of Peterlee, tips on improving her skills.
Now, the schoolgirl, a pupil at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Primary, in Peterlee, and member of the town’s swimming club, is preparing to take part in the ASA’s National Youth Championships in Sheffield.
She secured a place after winning six medals – three gold and three silver – at the National Disability Championships in March, as well as triumphing at other national and regional galas.
And Megan will be watching Ellie’s progress in the Paralympics.
Megan, who competes in other athletics sports including running, said: “I hope Ellie’s in the final.
“She’s really friendly and supportive. Swimming’s good because it doesn’t matter what size you are, you can just do it. The best bit is winning.”
In addition to helping Megan reach the five training sessions a week and competitions across the country, parents Kevin and Sarah also taken their other daughters, Emily, nine, and Isobel, seven, to the club.
Sarah said: “We’re very proud. We were part of the disability athletics, but Ellie Simmonds has been a massive influence, because she was on television and in the press, and she wants to be just like Ellie.
“When Megan first started swimming, she was a bit frightened because her feet can’t touch the floor. But after that, and when she got to see Ellie, she thought ‘well if she can do it so can I’ and her confidence grew.”
Megan’s best time for a 400m front crawl is 9.05 minutes, with many of the events she competes in for fully-abled athletes to give her the chance to better her own times and gain experience.
Coach Moira Foster, who leads the development group, said: “Megan’s got a fantastic attitude.
“Ellie is her role model and her mum says she’s really come out of her shell, really confident, and she’s happy to mix with people.
“Also, her parents are really good and really put themselves out.
“We say she needs to go here or needs to train then, and she’s there.
“Good swimmers need a good supportive family.”
Anyone interested in supporting Megan through sponsorship can get in touch with the club and her parents through Peterlee Leisure Centre on (0191) 5862400.