Teenage Swimming Star Juggles Final School Exams with European Champs

21 Jun 2011

Italy’s 19-year-old swimming champion, Cecilia Camellini will be using all the hours in the day to study for her final school exams and train in the run up to next month’s International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) Swimming European Championships in Berlin, Germany.

The swimmer shot to fame in 2008 by taking silver in her 50m and 100m Freestyle events at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics when she was just 16 years old. She holds the S11 World records in the 100m Freestyle and 100m Backstroke.

As a qualifying event for the London 2012 Paralympics, the European Championships in Berlin are a key competition for her.

“It’s an important step toward London 2012, and it will reveal my training and form, but I’m trying not to think about the pressure of the competition,” Camellini said.

Added to the pressure of competition, she’s had the difficult task of combining study with training. Her schedule is non-stop. In the morning she goes to school, trains in the afternoon and uses her remaining free time in the evening to study.

“It’s impossible for me to devote the same energy to both school and training. Each year, I have to decide, which one is more important. This year I finish high school and in view of my final exams, studying is my first priority. But in 2012, I’ll be totally free to think about swimming,” she said.

Camellini’s favoured event at the European Championships will be the 400m freestyle. Although she hold’s the World record for the short course, Germany’s Daniela Schulte holds the long coursed record, and the two will go head-to-head in Berlin.

“Daniela is without doubt one of the best athletes in the world, and I’ve always admired her. I don’t deny that she is my rival, and, considering her speed, I’m always very excited to compete against her.

“I’m not a psychic who can see into the future, so we’ll have to see what happens in July. I hope the best person wins,” she said, adding that she hoped she would improve her own performance at the event.

Camellini will be up against Schulte in all her races, but she says everyone is a rival in the pool.

“Everybody who is competing against me is my opponent. It’s natural that there’s rivalry in a competition and you shouldn’t underestimate anybody or anything,” the swimmer, who has been blind since birth, said.

Camellini began swimming at the age of three in Modena. Growing up, her hero was Zorro, the Spanish masked hero who defended the poor from tyrannical officials and other villains.

And perhaps some of the sentiment of the superhero has rubbed off onto Camellini’s own drive:

“Everybody can do sport. There are no limits,” she said.

“Swimming is satisfying and fun, but it also involves sacrifice, fatigue and hard work. I don’t think I could find any other sport that gives me the same sensations of weightlessness and freedom that I find in the water,” she said. “I’ll keep swimming as long as swimming gives me these emotions.”

Camellini will compete against Schulte in the 100m Backstroke, 100m Freestyle, 400m Freestyle, 50m Freestyle and 200m Individual Medley at the IPC Swimming European Championships which will see around 450 swimmers from 37 countries compete.

Other top athletes include Ukraine’s Maksim Veraksa, the fastest Para-swimmer in the world, and Great Britain’s Paralympic and World Champion Eleanor Simmonds.