We caught up with Ellie Simmonds about all things Girlguiding
Known as Aqua Owl to her Brownie pack, Paralympic champion Ellie Simmonds is a role model for girls both in the water and on dry land
Our exclusive interview with Ellie Simmonds
Champion swimmer Ellie Simmonds, 22, has won eight Paralympic medals, broken world records and was the youngest person ever to be awarded an MBE. Her time as a Rainbow and Brownie helped her develop skills she’s used to become a winner in her sport, and also to succeed in another role – leading girls in her local Brownie unit.
So tell us, what inspired you to become a Brownie Leader?
I have such happy memories of being a Brownie, and I enjoyed the opportunities Girlguiding gave me, especially going on camps and all the crafts... I loved those bits!
I also liked feeling part of something. Being a Brownie Leader means I get that sense of belonging, and allows me to give back too.
These days, technology means we often communicate in more remote ways. I want to remind girls of the joys of making new friends and of being surrounded by others – in real life, not just on a screen!
The value of coming together for an hour or two each week – to socialise, try new activities, challenge yourself and learn more about what you can achieve – is hugely important. I love helping to make that happen.
Many people aren't born leaders - it's a skill you learn. Practise makes perfect. Ellie Simmonds
It's amazing that you give your time when you're so busy competing. How does the occassional volunteering work for you and the other Leaders?
I moved to Manchester in 2015 to train, but I didn’t want that to be my whole life.
I wanted to find a way to socialise and give back to Girlguiding, so I contacted the nearest unit and asked how I could be of service.
I went along every Wednesday and ran some sessions. I’ve since been all over the world, so I can’t commit as regularly as I used to, but the Leaders are wonderful about welcoming me when I can make it.
If people want to volunteer but can’t stick to a regular schedule, I’d say go for it anyway. Your help is still appreciated and, as it’s a team effort, you’ll be supported to make the commitment work for you as well as the other volunteers and the girls.
Do you have any role models? What makes them special to you?
There are many leaders in sport, but I’ve learned a huge amount from my coach, Billy Pye.
He supported me in the run-up to the Paralympics in Beijing and London, and he understands how I think and what I respond to.
I think that’s vital: a leader needs to recognise that everyone is unique, and what works to motivate one person might not work for the next.
I try to apply that approach with my girls, and think about what makes them tick as individuals.
I also admire women like Clare Balding, Kate Middleton, Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren. They all seem very empowered, and embrace who they naturally are.
What would you say are the key qualities of a great leader?
It’s about being there for someone.
Giving directions and advice is important, but it’s mainly about listening.
If someone comes to you or asks for help, they need to feel you’re ready to listen.
I chat with my girls a lot so they know that I’m there for them if they’re having trouble at school, for example.
A good leader is always learning, and I’ve taken lots of tips from other Brown Owls and built on them.
Many people aren’t born leaders – it’s a skill you learn. Practice makes perfect.
Part of being a good leader is being able to motivate yourself and others. How do you do that?
Surrounding yourself with positive people is a big part of personal motivation.
For example, I know my friends will be there when I do my training, so that encourages me to get up and go. They help make what I do even more enjoyable. I think that’s an important part of being in Girlguiding too – finding the fun in things.
It also helps to set goals and targets for yourself and for your group. It can be really motivating to have something to all work towards together.
I know my friends will be there when I do my training, so that encourages me to get up and go. - Ellie Simmonds
Have there been any times where you’ve had to take the lead but felt out of your comfort zone?
Oh yes, particularly when I go into schools to talk to students.
But it’s times like that, when you have to do something new, that you find out more about yourself and what you’re capable of.
It’ll also give you the confidence to do it again in future.
What would you say to girls who are nervous about following their dreams?
Don’t be scared, just go for it. There are always people who’ll say you won’t be able to do it, but if you have passion and believe in yourself, then you can.
There will be ups and downs, but if you give it all you’ve got, one day you’ll get the result you want.
Our Youth Editors ask the fun things they've always wanted to know about Ellie
Lonie Milne asked:
What are your favourite colours out of all the Girlguiding uniforms?
Blue is my favourite colour generally, but I love the yellow of Brownies – it’s such a happy colour!
What was your first thought when you were asked to do an interview with guiding magazine?
That it was a wonderful opportunity – it allowed me a chance to connect with lots of you and not just my Brownie pack.
Believe in yourself and follow your dream. Doing so needs hard work and dedication, but it’s definitely worth it. - Ellie Simmonds
Jade Cowls asked:
How did you come to love swimming?
I was taken swimming when I was a baby – we used to go to the fun pools at places such as Centre Parcs.
I then started having swimming lessons from the age of four, where I made friends and discovered that I was a good swimmer.
I’ve always loved going, and this naturally continued into full time training.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever received?
Believe in yourself and follow your dream. Doing so needs hard work and dedication, but it’s definitely worth it.
Georgia Heyes asked:
If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be?
A bird. That way, I could fly freely to wherever I wanted.
What’s your favourite TV show to binge watch?
At the moment I’m watching the first two series of Broadchurch on DVD, so that I’m ready for when the next one is on.
If you could live in a fictional world (from books or films), which one would you choose?
My favourite book is The Hunger Games, and I think it would be interesting to see more of the world featured in that.