This month I spoke with Grace Harvey, a 21-year-old Manchester University student with cerebral palsy who competes for Great Britain in the S6 category for para-swimming.
I first met Grace at an awards dinner run by Manchester Universities XXI Club and was instantly inspired by her repertoire of achievements. She currently holds the European record for the 200m Individual Medley and has her sights set on competing in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
So Grace, tell us what first got you into swimming?
I first started swimming as part of my physiotherapy but also my parents wanted me to learn how to swim as it is such an important life skill. I joined my first swimming club when I was 9 and I was classified when I was 11.
Do you think there has been any barriers that you have had to overcome as a para-swimmer?
I wouldn’t really say that I have faced many barriers. I would rather say that falling off programme when I was 14 due to having an operation was really difficult and I had to work so hard to get back to the standard that I was previously at. But I have always believed that hard work pays out.
It obviously takes a lot of hard work to compete at your standard, what does a typical training week consist?
I am in the pool 8 times a week with pre-pool for half an hour beforehand and after the session I have post pool. I have gym twice a week and core once a week.
That’s a lot of training! How do you manage to balance your training with studying?
I study immunology at university. In my first year of study I was a full-time student and a full-time athlete however I found the workload to be really stressful so for the 2nd year I went part time and I found the balance to be much better. This year I have decided to defer university for the year to be a full-time athlete although I did not come to the decision lightly. I wanted to give my all to try and get to a Paralympic Games and I don’t want to look back with any regrets.
I can imagine deferring university took a lot of courage, is there anything else that you have had to sacrifice for swimming?
I wish I had more time to go home and see my family and friends. Swimming doesn’t really leave me much free time – but it’s worth it!
I guess a European record makes up for all the sacrifices you have to make! What else have you achieved during your career as a para-swimmer?
I am a 10x British record holder, European record holder in the S7 200m IM which I broke at BUCS in 2018, European bronze medallist in the S6 100m backstroke. British number 1 in the 100m backstroke.
You’ve certainly had a lot of success over the years. I know you have your sights set on Tokyo 2020, what exactly is the selection process?
The qualification trials is Easter weekend – the 9th – 12th April and is held in Sheffield. Qualification times will be released in the next few weeks and I need to swim inside the QTs at this meet.
That sounds like it’s going to take a lot of hard work, what inspires you to succeed?
My belief in the hard work will come out on top. But I also want to do myself and my family proud.
My biggest role model is my boyfriend Josef Craig, he was a Paralympian at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games and he has shown me that grafting and hard work does reap rewards.
And finally, what one piece of advice would you give to the younger Grace Harvey if you could?
Just to keep at it, that even though the journey will be tough, all the friends and memories that will come of the journey will come and be the best experience of your life.
It was great to catch up with such a talented athlete and I can’t wait to follow her journey to Tokyo 2020.
Look out for next month’s edition of ‘ordinary people with extraordinary stories’ and if you think that you have a story worth telling please don’t hesitate to get in touch.