Updated: Friday, 22nd November 2019 @ 2:37pm

London 2012: Wigan paralympic swimming champion Rachael Latham on her new role as C4 presenter

London 2012: Wigan paralympic swimming champion Rachael Latham on her new role as C4 presenter

By Lucy Hilton

Founder of modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, once said the most important thing in life is not victory but combat; it is not to have vanquished but to have fought well.

London 2012 is a far cry away from the back streets of the North. One young, ambitious Paralympic swimmer turned Channel 4 Paralympic presenter proves that hard work and determination is the key to anybody’s success.

Discovering a disability can be an earth shattering moment, but turning that fight into what can only be described as an incredible expedition shows impeccable courage. 

Being born with Erbs Palsy, a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the upper group of the arm's main nerves, Wigan girl Rachael Latham has battled through years of intensive training.

Not only has she competed in the 2008 Paralympics, but she is now celebrating following recently being named as the Channel 4 poolside reporter for the mix zone at the swimming during the summer Olympics.

“I wouldn’t change my life for the world,” she muses.

At only 22, she holds the European record for 200m butterfly, the 200m British backstroke winner, and was only 17 when she picked up a Bronze medal at the European World Championships.

As current paralympic world record holder for the 50m butterfly, Rachael is no stranger to celebrity introductions.

Admitting that despite her lusting for Olly Murs, she was nothing but professional when she met him while working for Channel 4. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for every celebrity meeting.

She met the Queen at Buckingham Palace after the 2008 Paralympics.

"I was basically choking on a quail's egg," she explains. "I'm from Wigan, I didn't know what a quail's egg was and then I had to remember 'mam, like jam' - it all got a little too much."

Remaining true to her roots, Rachael travels back from her new London home back to Wigan at every opportunity to visit her friends and family.

“My mum has always been my rock,” she said.

“She never missed a moment, from the first time I got into the water, when I received my first major champ medal in South Africa, to standing on the blocks in Beijing. I always looked up to her in the stands just before I got up to race; it became a little ritual of mine.”

With the encouragement of her mother, Kathy Latham, Rachael had her first taste of swimming when she was just three years old.

Starting with two arms like everybody else but having limited use of the left arm, she found it easier to not use it and with lots of training, and learned how to swim in a straight line.

She explains how she laughs when others automatically think she swims round in circles.

“I know a few people in wheelchairs; I do go round in circles when I have a go in them, it’s definitely a two handed job.”

Kathy first introduced disability sport to Rachael when she was just nine.

Rachael said: “I was scared. To be honest I didn’t even think of myself as disabled so I didn’t know what to expect.”

She caught the bug to compete once she started swimming with others of the same ability.

Soon training became routine. A typical day began at 4.20am with the alarm sounding to prise her out of bed.

A two hour training session, followed by school and homework finished with another two our intensive session.

“Tough doesn’t really describe it, I was putting in 20-24 hours exercise a week while studying and trying to maintain a social life. Not only was the multitasking and time managing hard but the training itself was brutal.”

Through all this Rachael was predominantly focussed on the 2004 Athens Paralympics trials where she narrowly missed out on a place in the GB team.

Giving up wasn’t an option though. Rachael pushed herself and was determined to refocus her ambition of competing in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Of course, it wasn’t all plain swimming. Rachael suffered a terrible set-back when she lost the use of her good arm only  three months before Beijing. To make matters worse, she was then knocked off the top by Heather Frederiksen.

Losing your only good arm for almost three months before Beijing is a challenge. And then returning to find a new girl has swept you from top spot is potentially devastating.

Surgery was necessary when a muscle in the shoulder of the arm she swims with came loose.

It was touch and go whether Rachael would make the qualifying times for Beijing and a new power emerged on the blocks.

Frederiksen was four years her senior and set a host of British records including equalling the world record in Latham’s butterfly speciality.

If anything, competition such as this makes Rachael more motivated.

“I would put myself through physical pain to reach my goal. Yes it was hard but I loved it, I loved to push myself, I loved to be apart of the British team and train with some exceptional athletes and most of all; I loved to compete,” she said.

Unfortunately, it was the problem in her arm which resulted in Rachael reluctantly retiring from elite swimming in 2009.

After returning to training, she began to experience the same type of acute pain which she suffered from back in 2007 and with the advice of her doctor, took the decision to not risk permanently damaging her shoulder in the long term.

Before long however, Liz Johnson, her friend and Paralymic champion, introduced her to the world of Channel 4 broadcasting.

At her tender age, Rachael has achieved more than most have in their entire lives.

She said: “I see it as two journeys in my life. I accomplished one which was my swimming and now I am starting a new journey in media. I am so fortunate that I can live my life to the full like I have done and am doing.”

Surely Rachael will never forget the indescribable, victorious moment she stepped out to race in front of 18,000 people in Beijing. And now looking forward to being a part of our London Paralympics, she is most certainly still achieving her dreams.