Amazing Costessey swimmer with no limbs aims for Paralympics

A swimmer with no limbs is overcoming the odds to power herself to victory in time for next summer's Paralympics.

Blood poisoning caused by meningitis meant Helen Dolphin's legs and lower arms were amputated after she fell ill in Christmas 1997.

The student was studying in London for a PhD in obesity and had hoped to become a scientist.

But at 22 she contracted meningitis and the last time she walked on her own legs was to the ambulance.

Over the next six years Helen had over 100 operations.

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Now, 14 years later the former television presenter is hoping to fly the flag for Norwich and her country in the swimming pool.

Last weekend the New Costessey woman won four golds at a competition in Sheffield meaning she is just 15 seconds away from qualifying for next year's Paralympic Games in London.

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Helen, 36, said: 'When I lost my limbs I just wanted to do some kind of exercise and the only thing open to me was swimming.

'It was hard when I first started.

'When I swam everyone was staring at me, but in the water I feel completely free.

'I have always swam my whole life. I used to get up for 5am starts before school and at university I did water polo.'

But when Helen, who is a campaigner for Disabled Motoring UK in Ashwellthorpe, first got into the pool after surgery she sank straight to the bottom.

'I just carried on and trained even harder,' she said.

Although the charity worker has prosthetic legs and hands she is not allowed to wear them when racing in the pool.

'It is all about the arms,' she said. 'I have no legs so to do 50 metres - I am dying by the end.'

Helen trains for six hours a week with swimming club the East Anglian Swallow Tails and won gold at the weekend in 50, 100 and 200 metres freestyle, and the individual medley.

The charity worker, who is well known to Evening News readers as Helen Smith, a reporter for Anglia Television before she got married, was fast enough to qualify for the British Gas Swimming championships at the Olympic pool in Stratford next March - the qualifying event for the Paralympic Games.

She added: 'I can't wait to swim at the British Gas Championships and I'll be training really hard over the next few months with the hope of making the Paralympics.'

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