Tears of joy streamed rolled down the cheeks of 11-year-old Emilee Pratt’s face when her idol Ellie Cole walked through her door.
Having followed the six-time Paralympic champion swimmer on Instagram for years, Pratt was already over the moon when Cole followed her back after she appeared on an Australian TV show on a segment around kids with disabilities.
“It’s a funny story how we first connected,” Cole said. “Emilee was on ABC Insight, and then I saw her again on Instagram’s explore page. She was already going viral, but you see, every time I see a picture of a kid with one leg, I feel like I need to give the photo a like.”
“The best part of being a Paralympian is seeing how much we can inspire young kids with a disability to get out there and follow their dreams,” added the class S9 swimmer.
After hearing Pratt’s excitement about her new Instagram friend, Pratt’s parents went one step further to help inspire their daughter’s road towards the Paralympics by inviting Cole over for afternoon tea.
“Around the same time that I followed Emilee on Instagram, Swimming Australia got a request from her parents, asking if I’d ever consider driving to their place to meet their daughter,” Cole said.
Without hesitation, she said yes.
“When I was that age, I hardly ever saw anyone on TV like me, let alone meet my idols, so I jumped at the opportunity,” Cole said.
“I remember how difficult it was being different, and people with disabilities weren’t really celebrated back then.
“So, I thought doing this would help Emilee continue on her journey to swim at the Paralympics.”
The best part for the Paralympic champion was not just meeting the Pratt, but working with her mum mother to give her the best shock surprise of her life.
“Emilee’s mum told me to text her when I was five minutes away so she could film us meeting for the first time,” Cole said.
“I heard her say – Emilee, can you just get the door?”
“It was so emotional. I couldn’t hug her because of coronavirus, but it was so nice to hang out with her. She showed me her running blade and all her legs, and taught me how to play Minecraft and how to kill a dragon.”
The three-time Paralympian also gave Pratt and her family a few tips, which she’ll no doubt follow to ensure she reaches Paralympic standards by Paris 2024.
“Her grandfather is her coach at the moment, so he was there and asking me heaps of questions about what I do in training. She wants to follow and do everything she can to achieve her dreams,” said Cole.
“I was so impressed by Emilee’s dedication to sport. She wants to go to Paris. In her bedroom, there’s Paris stuff everywhere. She’s got photos of the Eiffel Tower, printed pics of the logo, she’s really aiming for it.”
“I’m so confident about this kid. Keep your eyes out for Emilee, we’ll be competing against her in 2024!”
Back in the pool, focus on Tokyo 2020
But right now, Cole’s focus is Tokyo 2020. With the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic slowly starting to ease, the swimmer is back in her favourite surroundings.
“It was eight weeks out of the pool for most of us, and I’ll tell you what; I’ll never take swimming or training for granted ever again. I’m really grateful for every moment in the water,” Cole said.
Training alongside Australian Olympians Cate and Bronte Campbell, Cole said she also felt grateful for the time off, after suffering two acetabular fractures just two weeks before lockdown commenced.
“My hip is still sore, but it meant that I could have seven weeks off my prosthetic and out of the water, without the fear that I would be slipping behind in my training,” she said.
However, the three-time Paralympian remains positive and is looking forward to very special Games next year in Japan.
“Everything has been completely out of our control. No one could have ever imagined what would happen with coronavirus,” Cole said.
“But given the inconsistency of training and that every country has been in a completely different position, Tokyo should make for a very interesting Games.”