Peterborough swimming star with epilepsy keeps Olympic dreams alive thanks to lifesaver teammate
A teenage girl diagnosed with epilepsy is refusing to give up on her Olympic dreams thanks to a selfless teammate who comes to her aid in the pool.
Olivia Lee from Market Deeping was diagnosed with the condition aged 11 which was triggered by having an abscess removed from her brain.
But the 14-year-old City of Peterborough Swimming Club star, who won gold at the Junior Olympics aged eight, has continued to triumph at high-ranking competitions despite suffering from seizures which can strike anytime she is in the pool.
It is only thanks to her lifesaver Matt Gray from Spalding that she is allowed to train eight times a week to try and fulfil her goal of competing on the biggest stage.
“My dream is to make the Olympics and swim for my country. I love swimming and want to see how far I can go,” said Olivia.
The Peterborough School pupil began competing aged five, taking on and beating the best juniors in the country.
“I love being in water. I love racing - I love the competitiveness and winning,” she said.
Olivia was a talented triathlete, but made the agonising decision to give up the sport as the open water swimming was too unsafe for her following her diagnosis.
Undeterred, she continues to compete in the pool despite her epilepsy, meaning she has had seizures in training and in competitions.
Fortunately, Matt has always been at her side.
“He has really, really helped. When I had my first one in the pool I was shocked - no one was expecting it,” said Olivia.
“Matt was the first one to help - he saved me by holding me in the water on my back.
“He is always the one who is there to help. Knowing I will be in safe hands makes me want to swim. The club is also really supportive and has put lots of things in place to make sure I can still swim.”
Olivia’s mum Jo Lee said: “Matt is never prompted to do it, he does it because he wants to.
“He has held her in the water and kept her safe until the seizure subsides on several occasions. He then helps get her out of the pool and stays with her.
“He is completely selfless and never fazed by how distressing the seizures look. Without support like this Olivia might not have been able to continue to swim.”
Olivia and Jo were speaking ahead of National Epilepsy Week (May 20-26).
Epilepsy Action is highlighting the ways people can help someone having a seizure, with the charity advising them to stay with the person and protect them from anything dangerous in their surroundings. You should also call for assistance if needed, and if in doubt always call for an ambulance.
For more information, visit: epilepsy.org.uk/epilepsyweek.