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Meghan Willis: “Sport has made me more confident about my disability.”

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She is fast making a name for herself as an up-and-coming swimmer with an ambition to compete at the Paralympic Games, But Meghan Willis says swimming has given her so much more than medals and PBs.

Born with no right hand and a partial forearm, Meghan was always conscious of being different: 

“I used to hate people staring at me, I’d always tuck my hand up my sleeve or hide it behind my back. But actually, in a swimming costume, I couldn’t hide. And I also realised that people didn’t really notice. No-one was bothered about it. They were more interested in what I was doing in the pool.”

Sixteen-year-old Meghan often trains twice a day, swimming an average of 40km a week. She does all this while studying her GCSEs, so her commitment to the sport is obvious.

But she isn’t someone who was always destined to excel in sport. “I’m not sure I ever really considered myself to be sporty,” laughs Meghan. “But I always loved playing outdoors and running around.”

She began swimming in the same way that millions of other children do, by being enrolled by her parents to do swimming lessons. She swiftly moved through the different levels, or Waves as their known, and it was when she reached Waves seven – when you officially complete swimming lessons – that it was suggested she join a club.

Joining Torfaen Dolphins and the Wales squad

She first walked through the doors of Torfaen Dolphins when she was eight years old. And it’s still her club today:

“I met so many friends there and we’ve all grown up together. It’s like a family.”

The club also made sure they got Meghan classified early on. In disability sport, you need a classification to compete at a certain level. It was after this she was picked for the Welsh squad.

“It was a massive eye opener for me because I saw other swimmers with a range of disabilities. There was a swimmer called Molly who had no feet, and it was cool to see someone, a bit like me, in the sport who was doing well.”

Liz Johnson, who won gold in at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, was also a huge inspiration.

Meghan says her progress is testament to her parents, who have always supported her, and her coaches.

“I’ve been really lucky with my coaches,” adds Meghan. “They’re great at communicating and adapting sessions. My strength and conditioning coach, Ray Morgan, always goes the extra mile by adapting equipment and sessions for me. He has even got in touch with one-handed weightlifters so that I can get the best support possible.”

Meghan Willis smiling in the swimming pool
Image: British Swimming
I'm not sure I ever really considered myself to be sporty
Meghan Willis

Competing against her role models 

She was delighted in 2022 when she achieved the qualifying times for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and she was the youngest swimmer selected by Team Wales.

“I’ve swam for Britain quite a bit but the opportunities to swim for Wales don’t come around as often,” she said. “It was amazing. I couldn’t believe that, warming up, I was in the same lane as Adam Peaty. It was surreal!”

Birmingham also saw Meghan line up and compete against another swimming hero, Toni Shaw – the three-time World Champion from Scotland with one hand.

“Here I was competing against someone I had looked up to for so long. I was in the next lane to her and I couldn’t believe it. Seeing athletes like Toni Shaw and Wales’ Hollie Arnold gave me that encouragement. To see people, like me, making it in whatever they’re doing made me realise what was possible. 

Inspiring the next generation

But as Meghan’s confidence has grown through swimming and being exposed to role models in disability sport, she too has become a leading figure for the next generation.

She is now an ambassador of Reach – the UK charity that provides support to children with an upper limb difference and their families. 

“I want younger kids to realise that their dreams can be a reality. Just go for it. Try lots of sports, put yourself out there and just don’t worry about it.”

Asked how she feels about now being a role model herself, she says: “Well I hope I am. I want to inspire young kids. I want them to know that they can do whatever they want and not to be shy. 

“When I was younger I definitely doubted myself and never believed in myself. But taking part in sport and being exposed to so many inspirational role models has changed all that.”

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