How swimming changed my life - British Paralympian and Gorleston girl Jessica-Jane Applegate shares her tale

Jessica-Jane Applegate.
PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Jessica-Jane Applegate. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

As part of our Summer of Swimming campaign, British Paralympic swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate, from Gorleston, has shared her story of how she got into the sport - and how it changed her life.

Jessica-Jane Applegate on the podium with her gold medal after the Women's 200m Freestyle. Picture:

Jessica-Jane Applegate on the podium with her gold medal after the Women's 200m Freestyle. Picture: Chris Radburn/Press Association - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

'I was born at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston on August 22, 1996 - a little premature and with several issues and underdevelopments. The main was a tube in my larynx, which meant I was very sick and had breathing problems for several years. Another was that one of my legs is quite a bit shorter than the other.

'I went regularly to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to be used as research, as my bone and muscular problems are quite unusual.

'I lived in a council house in Gorleston, and really struggled at school. I couldn't manage academically and used to get into ever such a lot of trouble.

'I think swimming saved me from what could have been a very dodgy pathway. I was hyper-active as a child and getting into lots of trouble at school - my doctor offered medication but my mum wanted to try other things. She thought if I joined a sports club that might wear me out.

Paralympic Gold medalist Jessica-Jane Applegate. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Paralympic Gold medalist Jessica-Jane Applegate. Picture: Matthew Usher.

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'I started at the learn to swim club at Ashley Downs special school in Lowestoft, then progressed to the Lowestoft and Oulton Broad swimming club. In 2011, the pool closed down for refurbishment, so I moved clubs and joined City of Norwich.

'This was such a massive step for me, and the commitment we had to agree to. We had to get up at 4am to drive to Norwich, I would train, then eat breakfast in the car back to school, mum would pick up from school and drive me straight over to Norwich for another session.

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'We'd have an evening meal in the car on the way back and would get home at 8.30pm - a routine we had right up until I finished school in 2012.

Paralympian Jessica-Jane Applegate. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Paralympian Jessica-Jane Applegate. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

MORE: A summer of swimming: Launch of our campaign to equip youngsters with life-saving skills

'My training schedule is tough - it has changed over the years but it has never left me with much of a social life. I miss most family events and gatherings but luckily I have a great support network. Today, I have 16 training sessions a week, getting up at 4am - or 3.30am in the winter to deice the car.

'I love being in the water away from everyone - I've always struggled with mental health issues and in the pool I can be in my own little world.

'It feels great and it's something that I can do with confidence. Oddly though, I was a dreadful racer and came last at almost everything. My reaction times were so slow everyone was halfway down the pool before I'd even got off the blocks.

'Outside of sport there are few people that realise there are more low points than highlights. Most people only see the achievements, but there are incredibly tough days more often than not - from gruelling training sessions, injuries, illness, disqualification, selection policies and the wrong mind set, the list is endless.

'But, when you hear that you are on the team, have made it to the podium or shaved time off your personal best it's all forgotten. For those few minutes, the pain vanishes and the feeling is just incredible.

'My family have been a huge support during this - my mum has give up so much for me, she drives me everywhere, supports me, sorts my nutrition, does my paperwork - I am so grateful.

MORE: 'A groundswell of people who believe it is badly needed' - editor explains our summer of swimming campaign'Although my schedule is enough to scare most people I believe everyone should learn to swim - not to compete, but just to survive.

'We live around rivers, lakes and the sea, and it's so important to have this skill. Learning to swim can increase your fitness, strengthen muscles, increase lung capacity, help with mental well-being and sleep pattern - and could save your life.

'Swimming has made a huge difference to my life. I dread to think where I could have ended up without it, as I was on a very slippery slope.

'It has given me a purpose, a routine, discipline, confidence and social skills. Everyone should try it.'

Miss Applegate, 20, shared her four top tips with us for dipping your toe into the water.

• Find a group to suit your ability - from babies and toddlers, learn to swim, adults, competitors or leisure

• Never worry about what you look like in swimwear - everyone is too busy trying to stay afloat to care

• Always take a drink with you - it's easy to forget how much you sweat because you are in water

• Enjoy it - it's the best feeling

Our Summer of Swimming campaign was launched in spring to encourage more people to get into the water - safely.

We want to inspire people to learn to swim, make it a regular family activity and learn about keeping safe while around water.

• If you've got a story to tell that would fit well with our campaign, let us know by emailing

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