We’re just a few weeks into this year’s Strictly Come Dancing and already former Paralympian swimmer Ellie Simmonds has thrilled fans and impressed the judges with her performances alongside pro partner Nikita Kuzmin.

At 27, Ellie already has an impressive list of achievements to her name. She was the youngest British athlete at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, where she won two gold medals at the age of just 13, and a year later she was the youngest ever person to be awarded an MBE.

She happily signed up to Strictly with the support of her partner, Matt Dean, and has been loving her time on the show with Ukrainian dancer Nikita, 24, even if the gruelling schedule means she’s feeling some strain.

“I’m feeling it today and yesterday was tough,” she says. “My knees and my legs – I’m feeling muscles that I’ve never, ever felt before.”

We caught up with Ellie and Nikita to find out how Strictly compares to competing in the Paralympics and how it feels to be breaking boundaries…

Hi Ellie! How are you finding the Strictly experience?

Ellie: I’m loving it! I’m loving every single minute of every single day. It feels like it’s only just started, yet we’ve been in it for some weeks now.

How do you adapt your dances to accommodate the height difference between you?

Nikita: In every step we have to think about how we go around each other because the stride is slightly different, so we have to be very conscious of it. The good thing is the technique is always there, it’s always the same, the rise and fall in ballroom, the heel and toe, it’s still the same so we can definitely rely on that.

Which is more nerve-wracking, Ellie – competing on Strictly or in international swimming competitions?

Ellie:Strictly is actually more nerve-wracking. It’s so out of my comfort zone. I can see people here, whereas in the pool I can’t see anyone. It’s just me and the water or my other seven competitors. Normally in the water I’m focused and just thinking about breathing, whereas here you’ve got to go out there, give a show, learn to dance, not miss your steps, know your technique. I get so nervous my throat goes really dry and I’m sweating loads! I was shaking on Saturday night. I was like, “This is fun. This is amazing being nervous, but could I not have just sat on the sofa and watched it instead?”

Nikita: I always say to Ellie to love this moment, because this is a Strictly moment that you’re living for. If you aren’t nervous, you probably don’t care as much as you should. So just enjoy being nervous and enjoy not knowing what’s going to happen. It’s part of the magic of Strictly – anything can happen.

You’re looking incredible out there. Are you enjoying dressing up?

Ellie: Yeah, I’m loving it. I like the fake tan, the costumes. The hair and the make-up departments here are phenomenal. They’re so talented. I definitely felt sexy in that gold dress, for sure!

Nikita: Yeah, the gold dress, you definitely looked sexy. When you are in your costume, when you’re in your fake tan, you turn into a different woman.

Has it improved your body confidence Ellie?

Ellie: Yeah, definitely. I think you’re putting yourself out of your comfort zone already, and then with the amount of dancing we’re doing, how fit you’re getting, and then the costumes on top of that – you do feel confident. But I’m a woman as well. You do get your days where you feel a bit rubbish about yourself and all that. But then there are days when you’re doing this Strictly thing and you feel good about yourself too.

How does it compare with the training you did for swimming?

Ellie: This is full-on, it really is. I thought swimming was, but this is a whole different ball game. We’re training for nine hours a day, and swimming is in water, right? So it’s buoyancy, it’s less impact, whereas this is punishing. Nikita got me running around the gym the other day. I was like, “I’m not a runner, I’m not used to it at all.” I’m literally a fish out of water. At least when I was a swimmer, I got naps, you know? You could have a nap in between sessions. Nikita won’t let me nap. And what’s annoying is he can fall asleep anywhere, but I can’t!

Nikita: Don’t listen, I tell her to nap! But it’s good for me because she’s a really hard worker. I can’t ask for any more than that.

You’re breaking boundaries on the show. What feedback have you had from viewers at home?

Ellie: The response we’ve had has been phenomenal. It’s been more than I ever could have imagined, and especially for me, from the dwarfism community, not just in the UK but worldwide. Representation is huge and to be part of that and to do it
for so many people out there is just incredible. I’ve had messages from children saying things like, “Oh, that’s Ellie Simmonds, she’s got dwarfism and I’ve got dwarfism too.” I think that makes it very special. That really hits the heartstrings. When they’re seeing someone like themselves on TV, it’s showing them it’s possible. It definitely makes me emotional.

Strictly Come Dancing is on Saturdays at 6.30pm and Sundays at 7.15pm on BBC1

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