Manchester para-swimmer basks in the SPOTY-light ahead of making waves in Rio

Millions of people across the UK will tune into the BBC Sports Personality of the Year tonight and hear the name Tully Kearney for the first time.

But the Manchester-based swimmer has been hard to ignore for fellow competitors as she’s been making waves in the para-swimming world all year.

Kearney has burst onto the swimming scene this year in emphatic style and emerged as Britain’s most successful swimmer at the IPC World Swimming Championships in Glasgow taking home four gold medals, a silver and a bronze.

Her success comes after the disappointment of missing out on a spot in the European Championship team in 2014 after suffering with illness during the British Para-Swimming International 2014.  

The Nottingham-born swimmer was named in the original line-up of 10 nominees for Young Sports Personality of the Year and was announced in the top three on Blue Peter last week.

She’s up against gymnast Ellie Downie and jockey Tom Marquand and says she is honoured to be recognised on this scale.

“I just can’t believe I’m in the top three, I’m completely shocked and amazed,” she said.

“There have been so many amazing performances by amazing athletes this year.

“It means a lot to me to be able to say I’ve been nominated as the likes of Tom Daley and Andy Murray have.

“When you look at all of the things previous nominees have achieved I would never have thought I’d be here in their position.”

Kearney’s achievements haven’t gone unrecognised elsewhere in the sporting world with multiple award nominations including Disability Sportswoman of the Year in the Sunday Times and Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards alongside Dame Sarah Storey, Jordanne Whiley and Hannah Cockroft.

The 18-year-old, who was reclassified earlier this year from S10 to S9, says 2015 has been above and beyond what she had anticipated.

“2015 has exceeded my expectations; I never expected to come away from the Worlds with one gold never mind four,” Kearney said.

“My success at the World Championships hasn’t sunk in yet so to be recognised for my achievements on different levels is a dream come true.”

Kearney was inspired to get into swimming after watching schoolmate and four-time gold medal Paralympian Ellie Simmonds sweeping up at international events.

She said: “Growing up with Ellie by my side was a massive inspiration.

“We grew up in the same village, went to the same school, and now we’re both in Manchester.

“I’ve watched her every step of the way and it’s been amazing to see what she’s achieved; it’s motivated me to see what I can do.”

The pair now train alongside each other at the British Para-Swimming National Performance Centre in Manchester whilst Kearney studies for a degree in physiology.

Kearney took the plunge to move to Manchester just over six months ago and is already reaping the benefits of the facilities.

“Manchester is a great place to be a British athlete and I’ve really benefitted from the Aquatics Centre.

“All the training is based on what we need and it happens at the right time, everything we need including physiotherapists and doctors is on site.

“We’ve got a great team spirit here and having the support around me will definitely be key to success at Rio.

“I’m not able to throw myself into first year at university as your average student can but I have been enjoying myself.”

Triple world champion Adam Peaty is up for the main award and Kearney is looking forward to seeing British Swimming and parasport being properly recognised.

“I’m really excited for the event on Sunday. I’ve never been to any event like it before so just to have the opportunity to go is amazing.

 “It’s really great to see the increase in exposure disability has had since London 2012.

“It makes me happy to see our sport getting more of the attention it deserves.

“British Swimming has taken a massive step forward and to see Adam Peaty up for the main award is really good.

“Adam has had an amazing year and I really hope he wins.”

As the spotlight turns to Kearney so does expectation of success in Rio however she says she’s keeping her feet on the ground.

“I haven’t thought about Rio too much, I look at it as an opportunity.

“I’m hoping to get to there and to see what I can do but my focus is on qualifying in Glasgow in April.”

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