From Patisserie protégé to the Paralympic pool – Ellie Challis, a student at The Manchester College’s Industry Excellence Academy for Hospitality & Catering is representing Team GB at the delayed 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Ellie Challis, who is studying a Level 2 Patisserie and Confectionary Skills course , has spent the past year balancing her studies, firstly with earning her place on the team with a good performance at the British Swimming Selection trials, and then getting in the best shape possible for Japan.
Ellie, who has both arms amputated below the elbow and both legs amputated below the knee after contracting meningitis as a baby, competes in the S3, SB2 and SM3 categories. She’s undergone a rapid rise in the sport, from casual swimmer to Paralympic participant, and now she’s the youngest member of Team GB’s Paralympic swimming team, aged just 17.
“I first got into swimming when my dad took me to lessons,” Ellie explained. “I was really late learning to swim compared to all my siblings, but we knew how important it was. It took a few years and kind of just went from there. I started at a club, then started racing and really enjoyed it.
“I was in the Swim England programme for a few years and didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just swimming because I enjoyed it. I really only started taking it seriously last year. When I got selected for the World Championships, that’s when I realised, ‘Oh okay, this is going somewhere now!’”
After breaking the 50m breaststroke world record at the British Para-Swimming International Meet two years ago, Ellie was selected for the 2019 World Championships as a wildcard. There just to gain experience, she defied all expectations by breaking the European record in the 50m butterfly and wining the bronze medal in the 50m backstroke.
After an enforced year-long break from competitive racing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ellie competed in the Manchester International Swim Meet in February, where she broke the British records in the 50m backstroke and 100m Freestyle.
She then returned to the Aquatics Centre in March at the British Swimming Invitational Meet, knocking more than two seconds off her own 100m Freestyle British record.
Ellie said: “Training went really well, I was really excited to do the Manchester competition competitions. I didn’t race a lot during the pandemic, so it was good to get in some race experience before going to trials.
“It seems crazy to everyone who isn’t in sport but a Paralympic Games is a very different experience to everything else. Nothing is like the Games. I’m going to Tokyo to gain experience then it’ll be full steam ahead to Paris in 2024.”
Alongside her Paralympic aims, Ellie has found a passion for Patisserie at The Manchester College after moving to the city from her home in Clacton in September.
With a busy schedule, Ellie’s typical day regularly starts at 5.30am. “Sometimes it can be a struggle,” she admitted. “But the people around me help with that.
“The College, my tutors and my coaches have been amazing and they all work with me to find what is right, so that I’m not training too much. I have a good balance between going to College, going swimming and having a normal life.
“I really like my course. All the practical sessions are my favourite, it’s exciting being in the kitchen and we have a lot of fun together. We’ve been taught to write in chocolate and that was cool. The facilities are very different to a high school, a lot more professional!
“The College has supported me with exams, as I normally have extra time. They’ve been really helpful with everything, like days I have to miss because of swimming. Sometimes, I’m just not feeling great because I’ve been rushed around everywhere but the College have been amazing. Everyone is really supportive.”
The swimming competition at the 2020 Paralympic Games start on Tuesday 24 August and you can see the full schedule here.
Marie Stock, Vice Principal for Student Support and Experience, said: “We’re delighted that Ellie has enjoyed her Patisserie and Confectionary Skills course and has been supported to balance her studies with her busy training schedule.
“At The Manchester College, we offer a friendly, supportive transition, with our dedicated Student Support and Experience team working with young people and their families to remove any barriers to learning and ensure they’re ready for college.
“Everyone at The Manchester College would like to wish Ellie and Team GB the very best of luck for the Paralympics.”