Hill’s Olympic mission back on track

Ireland’s fastest woman Danielle Hill is more focused then ever to book her place at the 2021 Olympic Games.

Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 5:00 pm
Danielle Hill during her 24 hour challenge
Danielle Hill during her 24 hour challenge

The 20-year old swimmer from Carnmoney was just 0.65 away from the qualifying time for the Tokyo games when the coronavirus pandemic struck, putting paid to her normal 16 hours a week training in the pool.

However, Hill, who is self funded, has remained driven throughout lockdown, completing punishing strength and conditioning sessions at home.

The recent news from the Northern Ireland Executive which allows elite athletes to resume training indoors gave the swim star a much need boost.

Danielle Hill during her 24 hour challenge

“I am very happy. Northern Ireland has 110% done the right thing and I feel the lockdown has been eased perfectly.

“Although some athletes were getting frustrated, no sport is bigger than a virus and the last thing we want to happen is return to normal training and a second wave hit.

“I believe the Executive have been very tentative but have definitely put the lives of others above all.

“The frustrating thing now is that as an ‘elite athlete’ that comes from a club programme in Larne Swimming Club I have teammates who still aren’t able to train and my training environment won’t be what I’m used to, so I’ll have to make some adjustments, but I’m very happy to return to the water.”

Danielle Hill at the start of the Women's 50m Freestyle Semi-Final at the 2019 LEN European Short Course Swimming Championships Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Andrea Staccioli

High performance swimmers in the Republic returned to training on June 5, giving them a head start on their Northern Irish counterparts.

“It didn’t really bother me too much that they were back training ahead of us,” added Hill.

“I always reminded myself of the virus and that we were living through a worldwide pandemic, and the other countries who returned back to training did so on the advice of specialists who thought the country were fighting the virus off well.

“It does obviously play a little on the back of your mind that they’re getting extra sessions or training blocks in ahead of us, but the long-term priority is April and that still gives us plenty of time to prepare.”

Danielle Hill in the Women's 100m Backstroke at the 2019 LEN European Short Course Swimming Championships Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Andrea Staccioli

Throughout the 14 weeks of lockdown, Danielle maintained her training programmes, however, she decided to push herself even further with a 24-hour challenge.

“The hardest part of this whole situation has not being able to see my teammates,” she said. “They’re like family to me, and normally I would even see some of them two or three times throughout the day, so I have really missed them.

“I also found it hard not being in a competitive environment, surrounded by people who all have the same dreams and goals as me, instead I’ve had my dad to keep me entertained!

“Although swimming is very much a solo sport I have missed the atmosphere we created when training and it’s something I couldn’t get whilst in lockdown.

Danielle Hill of Larne SC Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

“Physically I have been working hard and doing everything I can to stop myself from losing much fitness.

“Thanks to my S&C coach Ryan, and with the help from the Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI) I was sent away with a full gym worth of equipment which has been set up out the back.

“Motivation doesn’t come hard to me and I think this came as a result of the injury I picked up at the Irish Nationals in 2018.

“Earlier that year I competed at Commonwealth Games walking away with incredible swims for both myself and the team and after that I really knuckled down and things were looking really positive.

“My coach Peter and I will always, and probably still to this day, say I was in the best shape of my life going into the nationals, psychologically, physically, everything was lined up.

“I competed on day one in a team relay, then on day two I swam the 50 freestyle and made the final. Then in the evening in a warm up session for the 50 freestyle I dislocated my elbow.

“This was a complete freak accident and something I’ve done from weeks in the lead up to the competition. I was a split second too late on the bungy cords which were tied around my waist as I swam into the wall and as it hit the wall my arm locked and dislocated.

“I recovered from it to compete at Dave McCullagh, breaking my own Irish Senior Record in 100 Back Crawl going 1.00.80, only .65 off the Olympic standard,

“I had gone for five months with no swimming, following just a gym routine pretty much like throughout lockdown.

“So if there was one good thing to come out of that injury it’s the mindset I developed towards training.

“At the start of the year with only two months training I managed to break the Irish Senior Record, so that helped maintain my motivation.

During lockdown I feel my focus and motivation was great for around eight or nine weeks, it was a new routine in my life and I was getting used to the sessions and cycling.

“Then it came to a point when training that I was driven to push myself or lift a heavier weight as I was almost scared of failure, which is where the 24 hour challenge came into it.”

“The reasoning behind the challenge was a selfish one in that I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally, do something different compared to the last nine weeks of doing the same thing.

“I had a point to prove to myself that under the fed up and tired Danielle there was still ‘the old competitive Danielle’ that got tested day in day out in the pool.”

Danielle’s demanding challenge saw her complete 1440 reps of 24 exercises in 1440 minutes, with 1440 metres completed and 1440 kgs lifted with many of her social media followers showing support and attempting parts of her challenge.

“I was put into a very fortunate position in that Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI) supplied me with incredible gym equipment so I could maintain my normal gym routine, so I wanted to use my platform to keep spreading positivity around working out and keeping active. But on the flip side of that I wanted people to see on days when things aren’t going great that that’s okay too.

“There are days when the only thing you can physically or mentally manage to do is make your own bed. I have always been a very real person and never have any secrets to hide and especially not with those who follow and cheer me on when it matters most.

“I love knowing I have helped someone or even gave them the motivation to try something new.”

Having returned to training in the pool, Hill looks back on lockdown as a positive.

“The lockdown has been a blessing in disguise, and I believe that to be the case for a lot of people, not just athletes.

“I firmly believe I would’ve qualified for Tokyo, however, with an extra year of building and progressing it makes for a very exciting year.

“It was a little but annoying that my coach Peter and I couldn’t show everyone what we had been working towards before lockdown but I don’t mind repeating it all again Some people might find that boring but I know it’s going to work. The dream is still alive, but the goal becomes much bigger, I want to be more than an Olympian, I want to put Ireland on the map and I especially want to put Irish females on the map.”