Swimmer Steph Slater aims for Commonwealth Games place

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
Back in the pool and aiming for gold

Preston swimmer Steph Slater hopes to book her place at the Commonwealth Games on Friday - but not in the matter she might have expected.

Four years ago, Slater was a talented able-bodied swimmer training at the High Performance Centre in Swansea with dreams of a place at the Delhi Games and the London Olympics. But one day in 2010, her world changed forever.

During a routine training session, her left arm went numb while she was in the water and she suffered an intense pain down it. Puzzled and concerned, Slater tried her stroke again and the same thing occurred.

She was out of the water for two years undergoing a series of tests before it was finally discovered that she had suffered damage to the lower part of her brachial plexus - the network of nerves that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm, and hand. It meant she was unable to use her arm again.

Slater still does not know how the damage was sustained but what was clear that it could have been the end of her swimming career. However, after working as a Games Maker at the London Paralympics, she realised that Paralympic swimming could be open to her.

"I hadn't considered disability swimming because I always thought my arm could be fixed and I would just get back continue on from where I left off," she told BBC Sport.

"When the doctors told me there was nothing they could do, it was hard to take because swimming was my whole life and to have that taken away from you is so difficult."

Slater came onto the Great Britain para-swimming team last year and set European records in butterfly and medley in her S8 category on her way to winning gold and two silvers at last year's World Championships in Montreal.

The Glasgow 2014 programme features six para-swimming disciplines and, although it is not her strongest event, Slater is aiming for a place on the England team in the S8 100m freestyle.

But re-learning swimming skills has challenged Slater, who now spends much of her time training at the British Swimming para-swimming base in Manchester and working with head coach Rob Greenwood, who she also worked with as a teenager at Preston Swimming Club.

"Because I was a good able-bodied swimmer, people thought it would be easy for me to transfer that into para-swimming but because I am now swimming with one arm it is requires a different balance and I have been finding it difficult at times," she explains.

"It is a work in progress. I'm learning new techniques all the time and getting used to a new coach and training facilities and it is important time to get all that right ahead of Rio, which is my main long-term target.

"I do sometimes consider what might have been but I tend to look forward now and forget about the past. I can't turn back time but the whole experience has definitely made me a stronger and more determined person."

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