BREAKING NEWS: Northampton's Paralympic champ Ellie Robinson among youngest-ever MBE recipients

Northampton schoolgirl Ellie Robinson has completed the most amazing year of her life with a New Year Honour from the Queen.

Friday, 30th December 2016, 1:06 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th January 2017, 4:10 am
Ellie pictured today at Moulton College with her Paralympics coach Andy Sharp
Ellie pictured today at Moulton College with her Paralympics coach Andy Sharp

The Great Houghton teenager, who only got into swimming four years ago, has been awarded an MBE aged just 15 - just two years older than the youngest-ever recipient.

She is one of only a handful of people to have been given the honour before the age of 16.

Speaking this evening after training at Moulton College's pool, she told the Chron: "When I read the letter, I was just really shocked at first. People had said, 'you're going to get an MBE' but I'm like, 'no' - I didn't expect it.

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Ellie training at Moulton College

"It's a nice surprise and it's really appreciated, to get recognition from such important people.

"This year has just gone so quickly and from one thing to the next and the next. It just keeps on getting better and better."

Like all today's New Year Honour recipients, Ellie has had to keep the news from all but her parents for a month - a particularly difficult task given the MBE is, for her, synonymous with her swimming heroine.

"It was confidential so it's been really hard. I've wanted to say to my friends, 'there's something I have to tell you' but I couldn't give anything away in the slightest.

Ellie training at Moulton College

"When I was a ten, I read Ellie Simmonds' autobiography and there was a photo of her and her coach with her MBE and so I was so excited to get one. That 10-year-old inside me is getting really excited.

She added: "'‹If I can inspire one child somewhere in the world, that's enough for me. That's partly why I swim. I'd love to be Ellie Simmonds to someone else'‹."

Ellie shot to international fame in September when millions of TV viewers watched her win butterfly gold at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

She had earlier set Twitter alight with her now iconic hooded walk to her blocks in the heats, which has spawned thousands of online video clips. Ellie later revealed the arms-out 'gangsta' pose was actually her attempt to acknowledge the cheering crowd in her heavy oversized jacket.

The Northampton Swimming Club member followed aquatic heroics by earlier this month topping a poll of the British public to win BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year - traditionally a nod not just to sporting achievement but also a display of the nation's affection - joining past winners such as Andy Murray, Wayne Rooney and Tom Daley.

Ellie, who is yet to take her GCSEs at Northampton High School, started her swimming journey aged 10.

Her coaches say she could have triumphed at a number of sports, but it was when her parents took her to watch her idol - and now friend - Ellie Simmonds in action at the London 2012 Paralympics that she became inspired.

The Northampton Ellie, who stands at about four feet tall, has the same condition as Simmonds – achondroplasia, a common cause of dwarfism – and resolved there and then to emulate her new heroine.

She now trains on five days every week for a total of 15 hours - at several venues, including Mounts Baths, Moulton College, Northampton School for Boys, Northampton High School and the 50-metre pool at Corby - and is in the water by 5am on two of those days, before going off to school.

Her path to Paralympic glory has by no means been easy.

As well as being born with achondroplasia, she has also suffered from Perthes’ disease, a painful childhood hip disorder that forced her onto crutches for six months.

During that time, she couldn’t swim and was in great pain. Even when she returned in June 2013, she could not dive or turn and had to be helped into the water.

Ellie’s para-swimming had started in 2012 when her PE teacher at Northampton High School contacted Northamptonshire Sport’s disability development officer for advice to help include Ellie in her lessons, having never taught someone with dwarfism before.

The officer provided them with some useful information and also asked the teacher to pass on a flyer about the swimming event that Northamptonshire Sport were organising on the off- chance that she may be interested in attending it.

Ellie’s parents brought her along to the event held at Duston swimming pool in July 2012, where she impressed Carl Cooper from the Amateur Swimming Association who was running the event.

Having then been signposted to train at Northampton Swimming Club, Ellie went to watch the Paralympic swimming at London Aquatic Centre where she first saw Ellie Simmonds competing. That made her mind up that she wanted to try and emulate her hero.

Having suffered the initial setback following her operation, Ellie soon made up for lost time thanks to the coaching of Belinda Smith at Northampton Swimming Club.

Ellie won events at the National School Games, British Para-Swimming Championships and International Para-Swimming Championships.

Then in April 2015, Robinson broke the World Record for the S6 100M Butterfly on her debut for Great Britain at an event in Germany. She was then being coached by Andy Sharp from Northampton Swimming Club who had taken over from Smith when she went on maternity leave.

Fast forward to April this year, and Ellie broke the British record for the S6 50M Butterfly at the International Para-Swimming Championships in Glasgow, which also served the duel purpose of putting her in contention for the Paralympics.

Then in May, Ellie was selected to make her senior British debut at the European Para-Swimming Championships in Portugal where she won two bronze medals and a silver in the S6 50M butterfly.

However, to the surprise of everyone, Robinson reversed these positions when it really mattered in Rio.

Back home in Northampton,though, she knows she must start again from zero if she's going to kick on and triumph again in at Tokyo 2020.

"Everyone in Northampton, they'll let me enjoy my success, "Ellie says, "but they never let me get carried away.

"It's always back down to earth.

"Now its back to hard training. The MBE is a great motivator."