At my day job I have a colleague Pauline English who was a member of the Australian swimming team in the Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, Germany in 1972 – where she won 3 bronze medals – and Toronto, Canada in 1976 – where she won 1 gold and 1 bronze medal. I was curious about this part of her life and asked if she would be interviewed for my blog. Pauline is a very gracious and understated person. I am inspired by her (and she always has such beautiful hair!).
In preparing for this interview Pauline didn’t mention that she had been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia, in 1984 “in recognition of service to sport, particularly in relation to people with disabilities”
For more information about this quiet, gracious achiever click on the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_English
How did you get into swimming?
My father didn’t want me to sit around the house over Christmas school holidays and booked me in for some swimming lessons and he entered me in NSW Paraplegic & Quadriplegic Games in 1972 as a goal. I broke 3 NSW records and was selected to compete in the National Championship for selection for the Paralympics in Heidelberg, Germany. I made the 1972 Australian Paralympic Team and headed off to compete in Heidelberg, Germany where I won 3 bronze medals.
When did you get serious about competing?
From the beginning of my swimming career.
What year(s) did you compete in the Paralympics and in what cities? How old were you?
1972 to 1979. I was 15 when I started swimming. I continued to train for several years after deciding not to compete any more.
How did you prepare – did you have to live away from home at ‘boot camp’?
I trained twice a day (sometimes 7 days a week, and sometimes only once a day on the weekend). I was swimming 6 miles a day. No boot camp but had great coaches who were very determined to see me reach my potential.
- Trevor Ellis taught me to swim and he and his wife became very close to my family but unfortunately we have lost contact. I always remember to first time he got me to swim 400m straight, it was so hard but such an accomplishment when I did it and may I say I was very exhausted!
- Jan Murphy (1964 Olympian). Jan oversaw my preparation for Heidelberg and was a very hard taskmaster as (were) all my coaches. Jan was our Paralympic coach for 1972 and was also responsible for the last few months’ preparation for 1976 Paralympics in Canada. She also was Paralympic swim coach for 1976.
- Don Talbot always made sure I was doing my absolute best and was always so lovely to me. When I made the 1972 Australian Paralympic Team he gave me a present. I thought he was going to give me flowers but he gave me a set of pulleys so I could work out at home.
- Ruth Everess (Olympian) who was a character but a very good coach
- Laurie Lawrence who was so inspiring and I loved his training programs. That’s when I really began to love swimming long distance but there were no long distance swimming events in the Paralympic program at the time.
- Col Jones – as all my coaches he was very hard but always interested in how I was going.
- Bob Kirkbride was the swim coach for several teams I was a member of and a very funny Scots man. He worked us hard.
May I say that I will always be so very grateful to all the people who helped me when I was swimming particularly the people above. I was also a member of Hurstville Swimming Club who were very supportive and interested in my swimming achievements.
Was it difficult to be away from home and focusing on delivering your peak performance with so much excitement and expectation around you?
My first time away from home was difficult as I was only 15 but after that it was very exciting. The swimming team had great coaches to keep us motivated. When I competed in the 1976 Paralympics in Toronto, Canada I went over a couple of months earlier to train at Thunder Bay, Canada at Lakehead University where Don Talbot and Jan Murphy (later Talbot) coached the Thunderbolts and also the Canadian Olympic swim team.
Can you walk us through your training schedule when you were at your peak?
- Leave home at 4.30 am be in the water by 5am. The session would last for 2 hours
- Go home and have breakfast and go to school.
- Get home at 3.30 do some weight/pulley work and stretching. Get changed and have a snack and be back at the pool at 5pm for a 2 hour session.
- After dinner do some homework (not much got done) and go to bed.
- Weekends were at least one 2 hour training session in the morning from 7am to 9am. Some weekends I had two training sessions each day.
How did you juggle work and training – or were you not working at the time?
When I started work it was part- time and because I had done so much training over the years I only needed one session a day by then.
When did you give up competitive swimming; was it a difficult decision?
No, it wasn’t a difficult decision. It was time to move on.
Do you swim now?
No, I don’t swim at all. I damaged my shoulder and bicep a few years ago. It was a very bad injury and the specialist wanted to operate which was out of the question. I do Pilates to keep my muscles strong and I really enjoy the sessions. It has really helped my injury and has also been good for my posture.
Have you kept in touch with any team mates? Is there an association that keeps past Paralympians connected?
I kept in touch with a few of the other Paralympians for some time after I stopped competing. Life takes over and pushes us in other directions so I haven’t been in touch with them for some time now.
What do you do for exercise now?
I do Pilates which as I said above I love and has been very good for me. I also like to go to Cronulla and go for long pushes but haven’t done that for ages. I must start up again.
You haven’t always been in a wheel chair. How did this come about?
I got sick when I was three. It took a matter of minutes for it to hit me. I got pins and needles in my legs and that was it. I got very sick and was in hospital for 2 ½ years. They said I wouldn’t see my 4th birthday. Thank goodness I have such a wonderful family. A lot of kids in those days were put in hospital and never saw their parents again. My parents came to visit every day even though visiting was only for an hour. The theory of my illness was I had a reaction to the polio vaccine which wasn’t really investigated further but I know something dodgy was going on with the vaccine at the time. I was then diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis.