Danielle Bailey

The bravery of Danielle Bailey is simply inspirational. Despite losing her hands and legs to meningitis, she refuses to let her disability hold her back from becoming a gold medal swimmer and future Paralympian.

Danielle was just four when she was left fighting for life after being struck down with the potentially fatal illness. She spent five months in hospital before doctors were forced to make the heartbreaking decision to amputate her limbs.

"I was young so I don"t remember much about what happened," says Danielle, 13. "The last thing I recall was going to bed with a headache.

"It was difficult coming to terms with losing my limbs. When I was little I knew that hair, nails and even grass grew back when you cut them. SoI couldn"t understand why my legs wouldn"t do the same."

Last year, Danielle took up swimming after being recognised as a potential talent for the Playground To Podium initiative, aimed at getting more young disabled people into sport.

"At first I was really nervous in the pool because I felt wobbly without my hands and legs," recalls Danielle. "I was scared to put my face in the water in case I lost my balance and couldn"t breathe.

"But once I got the hang of it, I just felt so free and alive. It"s like I have arms and legs again. It makes me feel capable and independent."

Danielle astounded her swimming coach Chris Silverwood by mastering all four strokes, quickly reaching times to rival a 16-year-old able-bodied swimmer.

Chris says: "When I first met Danielle it was to give her four or five lessons, but her talent, enthusiasm and personality shone through and I soon found myself coaching her three times a week."

Only nine months after learning to swim, Danielle won a gold medal at the Disability Sports Events National Junior Championships.

"We couldn"t believe it," says proud mum Lindsay. "I tried to take Danielle for swimming lessons years ago but they came to nothing."

In July this year, the teenager gave an equally impressive performance at the Amateur Swimming Association"s Youth National Championships, where she recorded a personal best in the 50 metres backstroke, racing against 2008 Paralympic silver medalist Fran Williamson.

Coach Chris adds: "A year ago she was a novice swimmer and now she can do world class times. She"s also helping to break down people"s misconceptions – when they see her alongside able-bodied swimmers they can"t imagine how she can compete – but she does, and wins."

Next month, Danielle discovers if she"s been accepted onto the British Disability World Class Talent Programme, which could lead to Paralympic glory.

Lindsay says: "My daughter is amazing, and she still has no clue how good she is. I like her modesty – with five daughters I can"t let her become a diva!"

 

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