Personal Health

The Secret Lives of Sportswomen, Part 1: Ellie Cole

Female athletes are intriguing, inspiring, multidimensional women– it’s not all training, competing and bulk-buy protein powder. We guarantee they are at least as fascinating as those other fitspo chicks you follow on Insta. So, in the lead-up to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games (April 4–15, 2018), we take a peek inside their lives and minds. First up, meet Paralympic swimmer Ellie Cole @elliecoleswim…

Ellie Cole only has one real leg. Cancer meant the other one was amputated when she was three. But not only did she survive, she thrived and doesn’t think she’d be an athlete if she had two legs.

“Sport doesn’t really run in my family; it was just a way to normalise my disability growing up. I think that’s where I got it from,” says the 25-year-old, who first competed in a Paralympics in Beijing, in 2008. “One of my favourite things to do is beat people with two legs. So I did that a lot as a kid and I think that’s what made me such a successful athlete now.”

Getting started

The six-time Paralympic gold medallist was drawn to swimming because it was a solo sport. “I did a lot of different sports as a kid at school. I kind of signed up for all the sports so I could get out of class, like most kids do. But I have this strong memory of being in primary school and playing basketball, and I remember my sports teacher almost refusing to put me
on the court during games. I found that really difficult.
“I had that … experience a lot going through school – like, I’d be on sporting teams and practise with them, but I’d never really be put on during games. I think that’s why I really enjoyed swimming: it was a sport where I could just get in there, I was representing myself and no one could take me out of it.”

Life with a fake leg

Although her teachers were focused on her disability, Cole wasn’t. “I was really lucky that I had my twin sister, Brittany, there as a kid growing up, so whatever she did, I followed … So she’s been a very big part of fostering that [outlook]. I’m oblivious to having a disability, I forget all the time.” Except when things go haywire: “I just have bits fall off every now and then,” she says. “I was walking through a supermarket a few years ago and I was having leg problems. I had a plastic bag in each hand [when] my leg just … came off. I was standing there holding these plastic bags [and] this guy came up to me and was like, ‘Uh, can I help you in any way?’ And I was like, ‘Just grab my leg … Actually, grab these bags, I’ll grab my leg.’ It was so funny. “But I think one of the biggest things that [strikes] me is everybody’s surprise at how mobile I am. For some reason they have this assumption that because I have a disability I can’t do too much, and that’s really frustrating. But I think the Paralympics is really good for blowing that stigma out of the water completely.”

Reality tech

When it comes to mobility, she says things are getting better for people with disabilities all the time, as prosthetics improve. “Though it is difficult because the technology is there but not everybody can afford it, and that is a real shame. I’m lucky that Toyota has been sponsoring me for almost two years now. They’re a really big supporter of the Paralympics and the Olympics … They’re providing me with this new prosthetic knee unit that has computers in it. It’s really futuristic, actually; it replicates the natural human gait more than any other unit. I’m very, very lucky to be in that position. But I’m only one of the 5 million people in Australia with a disability.”

Her favourite things

So, what does Cole do when she’s not training? “I love cooking. My mum was actually a cook when I was growing up. She loved trying out different styles. We owned a cafe [in Melbourne] so she opened up a whole coeliac section and vegan section of the cafe. So I experimented with … different health and wholesome foods a lot when I was a kid.” Cole also loves cycling and rock climbing. Oh, and did we mention she’s hot on the basketball court? “I started doing wheelchair basketball after the London 2012 Paralympics because I wanted to try a different sport. I just loved the idea of getting in a wheelchair and knocking other people over who were also in wheelchairs and not feeling guilty about it.  “It’s a really rough sport and I found it fascinating because, in swimming, we’re obviously completely closed off to the outside world, we have our faces in the water and we can’t hear anything or see anything other than the black line. And in basketball it’s a real team effort, so there’s a lot of communication, a lot of talking and reading the other players. I found that really challenging actually, and I fell in love with it because of how complex it is and how much the team gets behind you.” Cole is certainly showing those sports teachers what she’s made of. We’d totally want her on our team.


A DAY OF TRAINING: “Two sessions in the pool, then 1.5 hours in the gym.”

MUSIC TO TRAIN TO: “Anything with Ariana Grande or Céline Dion.”

STUDIED:  “Exercise and Health Science. I transferred unis three times – it took, like, seven years!”

BIGGEST VICE: “I usually eat almost half a block of chocolate. There’s a dark almond one from Aldi that is so good.”

SWIMMERS SHE WEARS: “Zealous. Training swimwear in crazy prints and colours.”

FAVE GOGGLES: “They’re by Engine, a triathlete brand.”

WANTS TO TRY:  “Surfing. I talk to another leg amputee who is the adaptive surfing champion in America. She’s given me tips.”

SPORT SHE WATCHES: “Netball. The Sunshine Coast Lightning [team] trains where I do. I have to try not to fangirl over them.”

Discover what the Women’s Health initiative WinS is and how you can get involved here.

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