Swansea University history graduate Gemma Almond is a former elite athlete and swimmer.  She is the recipient of a bronze medal which she won at the European Championships in 2011 and she was in two finals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Gemma is now a tutor in Social and Cultural History at Swansea University where her primary research area is disability history.

Gemma Almond swimming

Enthusiasm for the Paralympics is definitely improving. What more needs to be done to increase audiences?

I was honoured to be part of the London 2012 movement where I think a number of changes were made.

The Paralympics get fantastic coverage now and Tokyo has seen Paralympic ticket demand equal the Olympics for the first time ever.

However, to increase audiences further, I think more could be done to promote the movement between these four-year cycles by broadcasting other major competitions such as Worlds, Europeans etc.  It is also key that promotion is done in the right way and that athletes are presented in a similar way to their Olympic counterparts.

What was your former training regime?

Alongside my undergraduate and postgraduate work, I trained 24 hours a week.  Around these hours I would also be doing physio, massage, and general pre- and post-pool exercises to help prevent injury.

Looking back, it was hectic, and I'm not sure how I managed it alongside my degrees!

Who were your sporting heroes?

As a swimmer, Michael Phelps was someone I looked up to a lot. He raised the profile of swimming and pushed the limits of the sport.  Tanni Grey-Thompson as both an athlete and a promoter of Paralympic sport was also a big inspiration.

Did you view your disability as an opportunity to inspire change?

Yes, both personally and to others. I went into sport to prove those who doubted my physical capabilities, and especially those who put a limit on what they thought I could achieve.

Sport helped me to accept myself and changed my outlook on life and living with a disability; it has given me so much, opened a lot of doors and allowed me to push boundaries.

Since retiring, I have worked with a charity for DDH (developmental dysplasia of the hip) and have wanted to inspire others to also have belief in themselves and what they can do, despite pain and more limited mobility.

Why the switch to academia?

The opportunity of a PhD arose as I was coming to terms with the idea of retiring from elite sport. I have always been academic and enjoyed research, but the thought of a completely new challenge to help fill the gap from leaving sport was the main reason behind the switch.

Academia and elite sport are more closely related than people might think; a PhD requires a lot of commitment, the ability to set goals and targets in the short and longer term, a willingness to face setbacks and a passion for what you are doing.