BSc Sports Science student Hannah Russell is a Paralympic swimmer competing in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. After winning a silver and two bronze medals at London 2012, she is feeling stronger than ever. Before she set off for Rio, we chatted to Hannah about her life at Salford, how she combines studying with training, and her hopes for the Games.
Read our in-depth interview below, and then watch a video of Hannah on location at our Sports Centre.
What first got you into swimming?
Due to my visual impairment my parents thought swimming would be a perfect sport for me to enter. There’s no eye contact involved or any balls so when I was younger I got put in a pool and absolutely loved it. I’ve progressed and now I’m competing internationally. When I was younger my dream was to become a Paralympic athlete and to win gold medals.
How old were you when you competed at the London Games, and what did it feel like when you stepped out for your first race?
I competed at London at the age of 16. It was a little bit unexpected when I made the team at such a young age. I can remember even now walking out to the crowd of 17,000. It was such a surreal feeling and something that will stay with me forever.
Tell me about your achievements at London 2012. Did you anticipate how well you’d perform before the Games started?
I achieved a silver in the 400m freestyle and bronzes in the 400m backstroke and 400m butterfly. I went into the games wanting to do personal bests, as that’s what all athletes aim for. Coming away with three medals was the cherry on top!
How has your experience in London helped you prepare for Rio?
For me London was all about the experience. I went in there as quite a young athlete and now looking onto Rio that’s another four years international experience and I’m going into this a lot more ready, a lot more prepared. I know what to expect, but these are my first away Games so there are going to be some differences. But I know what’s going on and I’ll be more relaxed going into it.
What are your hopes and expectations for Rio?
Currently I feel physically and mentally stronger compared to London 2012. Going into Rio I am feeling really confident and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do.
How long does it take to prepare for an event like the Paralympic Games, and what does a day-to-day training session involve?
The Olympic and Paralympic Games take place every four years, so it’s a four year cycle. For me straight off the back of London I was back into training from day one. Every day I’ll train around five-six hours. I’ll do two pool sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening which are two hours long. In between that I’ll do a gym and core session that involves weights, core stability and lots of different little things. I’ve also got some sessions that involve speed, aerobic, and anaerobic exercises. So there’s a lot of variety in the training. Personally I’d say speed and anaerobic capacity are my favourites.
Why did you choose to study Sports Science, and at Salford in particular?
Sports Science is something I’ve always been very interested in. Ever since I can remember, I’ve absolutely loved sport. To be able to do it somewhere so close to my training, when I saw that Salford did the course I was really happy that I was able to get two things I loved doing six minutes away from each other.
Do you feel like, as a professional athlete, that side of your life informs your studies?
Having my knowledge around my swimming, and combining that with my Sports Science degree, I‘ve got the best of both which is quite nice. When I’m studying with my peers in the class we help each other, it’s my area when it comes to the pool and strength conditioning side!
How do you find the teaching on the course?
Really good. With my visual impairment I’ve had a few adaptations, and with my training programme being so intense I have had to juggle it a little bit. But I’ve managed with the help of all the lecturers, especially Clare Marsh who’s been there from the start of my course. She’s helped me every step of the way.
As both an athlete and a student, what inspires you to succeed?
For me it’s all about my goals. I like to set goals going into competitions, and also in student life. If I set those goals I’ve always got a target to achieve. Going into Rio I’ve set myself high standards and I’m hoping to be able to reach them with the training I’ve done. If you put in the work the results will follow.
What would your younger self think of your present success?
When I was at school I got told by one of my teachers to draw what I wanted to become when I was older. I drew myself as an international swimmer. Looking back on that and seeing how far I’ve come is absolutely fantastic. I have to stress I wouldn’t be here without the support of everyone else behind the scenes. My parents, my coaches, my support staff and also Salford University and all the educational support I’ve had. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be able to be here.