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The Women's Sports Alliance

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Alice Tai on elective amputation, comeback wins and new open water mission

“It (amputation) sounds like a crazy decision and it was difficult one to make, but I was in so much pain,” Alice Tai tells the WSA. “Now I have no regrets and I’m living my best life!”


Image from British Swimming / Team England


Having achieved a career grand slam of Paralympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles before reaching her twenties, on paper at least she was living an athlete’s dream.


Out of the water, the swimmer’s reality was vastly different though.


Alice was born with bilateral talipes, otherwise known as club foot, with both of her ankles fused and her right foot in particular highly problematic for her.


She was 13 when she first asked surgeons about the possibility of amputation, but they were reluctant to do so while the teenager was still growing.


Alice battled on, claimed gold after gold at successive major events between 2014 and 2019 before she was forced to reassess her situation again.


In 2020 the crutches she relied upon began to take a considerable toll on her body and elbow surgery forced her to miss the Tokyo Paralympics the following year.


“My mobility was awful,” she tells the Women’s Sports Alliance.


“I wasn't allowed to self-propelling a wheelchair, I wasn't allowed to use my crutches even post-surgery, so I was having friends push me around.


“I just started thinking, ‘I can’t walk without crutches because of my right foot so a prosthetic foot would be way more functional’ and improve my quality of life.


Many consultations with medical professionals, discussions with her friends, family and coaching team followed before Alice – after “quite a bit of crying” underwent the knife in January 2022.


Her life changed immediately “for the better” and after five days in hospital she was released home and posted online about “feeling great” and being “incredibly optimistic” about her future.


Image from @alice__tai


LITTLE AND LARGE CHANGES TO EVERYDAY LIFE


Alice knew there would be some major readjustments to life with a prosthetic limb, but there were smaller changes which she had not anticipated.


“I was able to go and do things that I never even imagined I could and some were simple things like walking and talking on the phone, which baffles me,” she says with a smile.


“Obviously before I’d have to stop and balance as I’d be on my crutches, but now it was a habit and I’d be walking with friends, pick up the phone and stop.


“It’s opened up a whole avenue of life though that I never saw myself having and I have no regrets because I’m living my best life.”



GAINING PARALYMPIC PERSPECTIVE


Her new circumstances have certainly given Alice greater perspective, but those seeds were also sown while she worked as a pundit for Channel 4 during their coverage of the Tokyo Paralympics, a Games she had been forced to miss after elbow surgery.


“The interesting thing about working on sort of the production side of the Paralympics, instead of being an athlete, is that I think I gained more appreciation for the kind of sport as a whole,” she states.


“Being an athlete, I was always very much in the bubble and everyone around me was at an elite level.


“Being outside of that bubble I really saw how the athletes competing and the success that they were achieving was affecting the public and affecting the people around me that weren't within that athlete bubble and it gave me a whole new perspective.


“I really learned that what I do and the things that I can achieve really can be hugely inspiring and motivating to other people and I never realised that before.


“I feel like I'm way more motivated now because I want to be able to promote that change and be a spokesperson, because I've seen first-hand how it can how it can affect everybody.”



A MEDAL-WINNING COMEBACK


Alice knew her new circumstances post-surgery would mean new opportunities but still in her early 20’s the Paralympic champion had goals she still wanted to achieve in the pool.


She entered the 2022 Para Swimming World Championships “purely for classification” as she needed to be assessed by officials to determine how her lower leg amputation would impact her performance.


Her target was the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later that summer, but she shocked not only herself, but the para swimming community by claiming silver in the 100m freestyle.


“I wasn’t expecting it, but swimming there means I got to be at the Commonwealth Games and swim my main event, 100m backstroke and yeah, somehow came away with gold,” she tells the WSA.



NEW ATTITUDE, NEW GOALS – SWIMMING THE CHANNEL!


Alice has recently been named in the British squad for the 2023 Para Swimming World Championships which will take place in Manchester, but she also has another major target the other side of the summer.


“I’m going to be swimming the channel as part of a relay this September and currently applications are open to come swim it with me,” she reveals.


“The scariest part is that I can't see bottom and that terrifies me but I've got the five months of training to hopefully get to grips with that and then gain a bit more confidence.


“In the pool I'm so within my comfort zone and I've been swimming for years, so it's going to be really interesting and I’ll have to adapt as a swimmer and learn new things!”


What time of team-mates is she looking for? You may ask, well the answer might surprise you. You do not have to be an elite medal-winning swimmer.


“I think a lot of people assumed I'm looking for experienced swimmers but that’s not true,” states Alice.


“They can be competitive, or non-swimmers, but people who wat to give it a go and can commit to five months of training with Professor Greg White – who trained David Walliams for his open water swims!


“I want a team who's going to be able to support each other when people in and out of the boar with cheering and motivating because it can be great fun and I’m looking forward to that team camaraderie!”



After the 2023 World Championships and channel swimmer later this year her thoughts will naturally turn full-time to her next major goal – the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.


“I feel rejuvenated about my day-to-day life now,” Alice tells the WSA.


“While Paris is a target, I’m appreciating the moments more than I used to now so I’m going to enjoy this year and then go big for the Paralympics hopefully in 2024!”




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