This months youth athlete of the month is Hannah Russell, MBE. Hannah's biggest success was realising her childhood dream of becoming the Paralympic Champion in Rio 2016. Now, Hannah has her sights firmly set on Tokyo 2020.
We caught up with Hannah poolside, as we wanted to delve a little deeper into her routine, strategies and goals for the near future. There is plenty to take from from her outstanding career to date, including, of course, some top tips for parents and young athletes regarding how she works with top practitioners in her sport to organise her nutrition around performance and training.
Q: How did you get into your first sport, and how old were you?
H: My parents introduced me to swimming at a very young age, I was a child who loved the water. I spent my early years always playing in the paddling pool in the summer and going to the local swimming pool with my Dad. I took up swimming lessons at the age of 5 at Woking Swimming Club, and since then I have never looked back! I come from a very sporty family and my parents considered swimming as the safest sport for me due to my visual impairment. I was able to fulfill to my full potential in an environment which was safe.
Q: Did you have any key idols or role models that you looked up to and wanted to replicate, and if so, why?
H: In 2008 I was inspired by Rebecca Addlington and Ellie Simmonds’ performances at the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games, achieving 2 Gold medals. I remember turning around to my parents and saying “that’s what I want to do”. From that moment on, I upped my training to 16 hours a week and my long term goal was set. To qualify for Rio 2016.
Q: How do you cater for your sports nutrition? What sort of meal plans/nutritional strategies did you utilise?
H: In the build up to Rio 2016 I had my evening meals prepared for me by ‘YOLO’, this saved a lot of time in regards of food preparation, allowing me to purely focus on my training and recovery.
This year I have been preparing meals myself, I tend to bulk cook at weekends, dishes which I can easily freeze such as bolognese, casseroles etc. I am also a fan of using a slow cooker, has been seen as a lifesaver especially I am rarely in the flat, I can put food on in the morning and I will come home at 7pm and its cooked and ready to go! Alongside the above, I also work closely with the GB sports nutritionist, focusing on my daily intake, making sure I am getting the correct amount of nutrients required to get the best performance in the pool.
Q: Let downs and injury are a common feature of being a professional athlete, can you tell us how you motivate yourself and what keeps you going through major incidents or tough circumstances?
H: I have always been one to set myself goals and targets, whether this be short term or long term. Within my career so far, I have for sure had my share of let downs and my targets and goals were the 2 things which kept me going. I also have a motto that I live by ‘if you believe you can achieve’, this motto always stuck by me. Last summer at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games I became double Paralympic Champion winning 2 gold medals and a bronze, this is an example that if you put your mind to it, you really can achieve anything!
Q: What advise would you offer to youth athletes facing similar obstacles? What tools, tactics or strategies do you use to combat adversity? Any recommendations?
H: I would highlight to always believe in yourself, you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Surround yourself with positivity, it is so important to be happy within yourself and your environment will have a big impact; change all the negative into positive, to people that nothing will beat you!
Hannah Russell MBE
Q: As a very successful youth athlete, how often do you train, and how has this changed depending on your sport?
H: In total I train 26 hours a week with City of Manchester Swimming Club. I train 21 hours in the pool and 5 hours conditioning training, including weight sessions, yoga and stretching.
Q: How do you stay healthy? Any Nutrition Tips?
H: Nutritionally, I focus on eating a healthy balanced diet. On my plate, I like to make sure I have a lot of color; this is an easy way to make sure that you are getting in the correct amount of nutritional goodness into your diet; the more colors the better! I keep my ‘treat’ meats to a minimum, having a ‘treat’ now an again isn’t too harmful, if I was to have a ‘treat meal’ it would be after a Saturday AM training session which is an intense anaerobic lactate threshold / tolerance, as a reward!
Hannah Russell claimed gold and set a world record in the process. Credit: PA Wire
Q: What does it feel like to win competitions? Describe the emotion and senses involved during and afterwards.
H: I can clearly remember my reaction and the huge amount of emotions running through my body when I achieved my childhood dream of becoming Paralympic Champion in Rio 2016.
The evening of the 14th September was when I had my 100m backstroke final, I remember going into that race quietly feeling confident, and I had managed to keep all my other emotions under control. All the years of training, the hours of dedication, all for this one moment, the time had finally come upon me. 1 minute 6 seconds and 6 milliseconds (1:06:06) went within a flash, I remember on the last 25 metres I could hear the crowd going mental, I knew something special could happen. I touched the wall, clueless. I am unable to see the score board and fellow competitors in my race (due to my visual impairment which restricts me only being able to see 0.05 metres clearly), I had to wait until I reached the media zone, when live on air they told me “How does it feel to become Paralympic Champion touching in a new World Record time?!”.
A dream had become reality, I was filled with so much excitement, relief, I had happy tears coming down my face, whilst having the biggest smile on my face. Standing on top of the podium, hearing the Great Britain national anthem being played, it was an indescribable feeling – to know that my family and coach were there just made that moment even better. A moment I will cherish forever.
Q: What are your future aspirations?
H: My future aspirations in the pool are to qualify for the upcoming IPC European Championships in 2018 being held in Dublin, the IPC World Championships 2019 held in Malaysia and the ultimate long term goal being to qualify for Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and achieving one better than Rio, 3 Gold medals across my main events. Another target of mine is to break the current S12 50m freestyle World Record which stands at 26:80 (my current personal best is 27:01).
Q: What is your favourite quote or inspirational quote? Or perhaps you like your own made up quote? What is it?
H: I live by my two mottos:
“If you believe you can achieve” and “it’s ability, not disability that matters”.
Q: Who is your favourite athlete or sportsperson and why?
H: My favourite athlete has got to be Michael Phelps. I was so fortunate to meet him in person at last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Ever since I was young, his determination, commitment and dedication has inspired me. I can clearly remember watching him compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, becoming the ‘Greatest Of All Time’.
Q: What does your ‘internal chatter’ look/sound like in the run up to your event time. What strategies do you use to calm nerves and remain focused.
H: In the build up to an international competition, there are endless emotions going through my body, to be able to channel nerves is key to success. I have worked closely with the GB psychologist, to come up with individual strategies to help control my nerves. My strategies include listening to music, using breathing techniques and positive visualisation.
Hannah Russell claimed gold and set a world record in the process. Credit: PA Wire
Q: What advise would you offer to Parents of youth athletes regarding their training, the pressure to perform (academic and sporting) and catering for nutrition? How can parents best support their training objectives?
H: I come from a very sporty family, both of my parents have been highly involved in sport for throughout their lives, my Dad was an elite Rugby player and now the CEO of London Scottish, my Mum competed at regional for many sports and is a teacher PE at secondary school.
I believe parents and family play a huge role in their child’s career, ultimately they want to see their children succeed. Parents should be supportive and always be open to listen to what their child has to say (it should be the child who drives the sporting commitment, not the parents). Nutritionally, parents should focus on following the ‘healthy balanced diet’, youth athletes are still in the process of growing and some still going through puberty; therefore it is important that no nutritional foods are missed out.
Q: Any tips for balancing training, academic studies, competitions/games and a social life?
H: It can be seen as a real challenge to balancing your academic life, with your sport and also social life, although it is possible! My biggest tip is to be organised in every aspect of your life, keep a planner to keep track of all your homework, plan out your week- see what free time you have in and around studying and training to meet up with friends. If you’re organised, I can guarantee, that you’ll find life a lot less stressful!
Q: What are your objective thoughts on Youth Sport Nutrition designing PROTEEN®, the first safe supplement for high level youth athletes to support their recovery post training/match?
H: It is brilliant that YSN has designed PROTEEN®! I am one of many athletes who are on the WADA (World Anti-doping System), and making sure you’re 100% clean is so important. It gives me great confidence that your products are all batch tested, knowing that I can recover efficiently, fuelling my body with the correct nutrients with using the best protein shake formula around!
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