Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 13:09 UK

Paralympic hero returns to school

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Ellie Simmonds returns to school

A teenage double-gold medallist at the Paralympics in China has been given a heroes' welcome on her first day back at school.

Pupils and teachers at Olchfa comprehensive in Swansea chanted 13-year-old Eleanor Simmonds' name as she arrived there on Wednesday.

She is from Walsall in the west Midlands but lives in Swansea in the week because of its facilities.

Eleanor swam to gold in the 100m and 400m freestyle races in Beijing.

To shouts of "Ellie, Ellie" the teenager was driven back to school in grand style surrounded by a group of close friends in the back of a stretched Jaguar car.

She was greeted by thunderous applause as she stepped out of the car with tears in her eyes.

It's fantastic to be back but I just never expected any of this
Eleanor Simmonds

Classmates rushed to hug her, presenting her with several bouquets as she handed over her gold medals for examination.

"It's fantastic to be back but I just never expected any of this," a tearful Eleanor said.

"I never expected to win gold and I never expected this."

Her mother Val Simmonds, took over responsibility for the flowers as her daughter was ushered inside the school for a private celebration.

She then received a third gold medal in the form of a giant cake, while the school's 2,000 pupils were all presented with cakes of their own to mark the event.

A private assembly for fellow Year Nine pupils then took place where the Paralympian was due to cut the symbolic cake.

Eleanor Simmonds arrives at Olchfa comprehensive in Swansea
The swimmer and a group of friends arrived in a stretched Jaguar

"We are all shell-shocked by the greeting she has had since returning to the UK," said Mrs Simmonds, 55.

"None of it has sunk in yet. It has all been so overwhelming," she added.

Her wins in the Water Cube made her Great Britain's youngest ever individual Paralympic gold medallist.

She was not expected to win in Beijing and had been seen as a prospect for London 2012.

But Eleanor, who was born with achondroplasia, or dwarfism, won the 400m race in a new world record propelling her into the ranks of British sporting celebrity.

Classmates and teachers alike today had nothing but praise for the teenager.

Eleanor Simmonds
She is a very well driven individual who has a lot of support and she brings the same attitude to her schoolwork as she does to everything else
Dave Williams, Olchfa comprehensive school

"Wow," said Chloe Webb, 13.

"We've been watching what she did in Beijing and it was amazing. Everyone in the school has been talking about her and waiting for her to come back."

Dave Williams, Eleanor's head of year, said: "She is an inspiration to everyone around her.

"She has done an awful lot to put disability on the map and show that you can take a lot of positives from it.

"Everyone here is really excited about having her back and returning to school and regular lessons is just what she needs to keep grounded.

"But she is a very well-driven individual who has a lot of support and she brings the same attitude to her schoolwork as she does to everything else."

Pupils had another reason to cheer when they learned that they were being given a half-day off in recognition of Eleanor's achievement.




SEE ALSO
Lights honour for Paralympic hero
22 Sep 08 |  West Midlands
Roberts & Simmonds shine in pool
14 Sep 08 |  Disability Sport
No Olympic pool for gold swimmer
09 Sep 08 |  West Midlands
Simmonds makes history with gold
08 Sep 08 |  Disability Sport

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