Ellie Greenwood – Making Waves in the Transplant Sport World

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For Rotherham pre-teen Ellie Greenwood, day-to-day-life is pretty normal; she likes most things at school, spends time with her family, and loves chasing and catching Pokémon.

But she’s harbouring a secret talent that even her school friends don’t know about – she can swim like a dolphin.

At almost 12-years-old, Ellie’s swimming ability has seen her invited to be part of the British squad at this summer’s World Transplant Games in Malaga.

A beacon of hope for transplant patients, the charity Transplant Sport promotes active recovery for recipients, while also hoping to raise awareness around the importance of organ donation.

Organising both the British and World Transplant Games, the events are to celebrate the gift of a lifesaving transplant, as well as support patients through their individual journeys.

For Ellie, she had a liver transplant at just seven months old.

The first child for parents Tracy and Antony, the birth of their baby girl should have been filled with elation and joy, of watching her grow and develop every day.

But at just eight weeks old, they noticed her stomach had started to swell like a balloon. Ellie was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, or malignant childhood liver cancer, at three-months-old. Her tiny body was to endure four months of chemotherapy at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

While they should have been laughing at her funny little quirks and she laughing back at them, the new parents couldn’t even cuddle or kiss their daughter due to the high risk of infection.

Because of the location of the tumour, it was decided doctors would not operate to remove the shrunken tumour. Instead, Ellie was put on the donor list, with a match fortunately being found just ten days later.

After being transferred to St James’ Hospital in Leeds, the nine-hour operation was a success, but further post-surgery complications meant the family had to stay in hospital for another three months.

Luckily, life for Ellie has run smoothly ever since. Celebrating her tenth liver-versary last year, Ellie has done so many amazing and wonderful things since, raising thousands of pounds for the Leeds transplant team as thanks for the life they had given her.

From charity night to fun runs, Ellie also promotes the importance of being on the donor list, along with supporting childhood cancer by donating her hair to the Little Princess Trust a few years ago.

At 18-months-old, Ellie was invited to attend the British Transplant Games as a spectator by the Leeds team manager.

“We went along just to have a nosey really, see what it was all about. But it was like a bug,” mum Tracy says.

The next year, Ellie competed in her first games at just two-and-a-half-years-old in the under-fives category.

“There wasn’t that many little ones competing when we started, maybe four or five, some were still in walkers. Then there’d be the eldest member at 90 doing the 400m.

“It makes you cry to see the little ones, and the ones who come in last always get the biggest cheer,” Tracy says.

At each annual event, transplant teams from across the country compete in various events. Along with liver teams, there are also survivors of heart, lung, kidney, pancreas and bone marrow transplants, all taking part in a range of sports.

From archery to snooker, badminton to track and field, there are also events such as bean bag throw, ten pin bowling and sport stacking.

Trying her hand at every sport, Ellie has competed at every British Transplant Games over the past 11 years, taking part in everything from ball throw to badminton, 25m dash to an obstacle course.

In 2010, she won the Pauline Andrews Memorial Trophy for the Best Under Five participant.

But over the past few years, she has moved from the running track to poolside, joining a local swimming club where she trains four times a week. Swimming in local galas, Ellie has won two personal bests this year, taking seconds off her 25m time each event.

At the Games, Ellie is part of the Leeds transplant team, travelling up and down the country for the annual event. With just three liver teams taking part, Leeds often face stiff competition from their rivals Birmingham, with the latter taking top spot on most occasions.

But at last year’s games, Leeds brought home the team trophy, with their squad members also helping rack up the medals.

On a personal level, Ellie has never come home without a medal, and her success at a national level means that she has been asked to take part in the World Games for the first time.

Happening every two years, the World Transplant Games sees over 1,000 competitors from 70 countries taking part in 17 events. The GB squad is one of the biggest teams taking part, with over 200 members.

Ellie and four others from the Leeds squad will make up the Team GB numbers, with Ellie just one of two swimmers chosen and the only child from South Yorkshire taking part.

She will be the youngest swimmer on the team of 40, with just three British swimmers in the 12-14 age bracket.

Trying out her backstroke, breaststroke and her favourite butterfly, Ellie will take to the pool this summer against some of the strongest competition, including the Australians who she says are like fish.

Hoping to emulate the success of her namesake sporting hero, Ellie Simmons, we’re sure that she will make waves amongst her competitors.

Before she gets to the competition, which takes place in Malaga from 25th June to 2nd July, Ellie needs to raise £3,000 for her and her mum to get there. A keen fundraiser, Ellie and her family and friends have been taking part in all sorts of sponsored events, such as chest waxing, marathons and Christmas jumper days.

Outside of swimming, Ellie enjoys most things at school, especially PE where she can try lots of new sports, including use of the school’s gym.

When she’s older, she wants to put her love of anything to do with water and her caring nature to good use, with dreams of being a marine biologist at Seaworld in Florida.

For more information about Ellie’s story or to donate to help her get to Malaga, visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/antony-greenwood3

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