In his first interview since returning from the Paralympics this week, record-breaking swimmer Lyndon Longhorne talks to PETER BARRON about his “unforgettable” memories of Tokyo – and his determination to go even faster in Paris

AS he settles back into life after his Paralympics adventure, Lyndon Longhorne admits that the enormity of what he has achieved is still sinking in.

And the 25-year-old swimmer, who grew up in Crook, County Durham, has revealed that he might never have achieved his dream had it not been for his three-year-old daughter Aubree.

“I could easily have given up, thinking it was never going to happen – that it was beyond me – but she made me think again,” he says.

The Northern Echo has followed Lyndon’s remarkable emergence as a top-class athlete ever since he was struck by meningitis as a baby, leading to amputations of his right leg above the knee, his left leg below the knee, his right hand, and the fingertips on his left hand.

Despite his disability, Lyndon excelled in the swimming pool after being encouraged by his grandad, and, in 2008, he set himself the goal of competing in the Paralympics.

Four years later, ahead of the London Games, he was given the honour of carrying the Olympic torch through Bishop Auckland but faced the heartbreak of not being selected for the Great Britain team. He refocused and set his sights on Rio in 2016 but missed out again.

“I was devastated,” he recalls. “I needed a break from swimming and thought about giving up completely.”

But then, in 2018, he and his partner, Beth, had Aubree, and she breathed new life into Lyndon’s ambitions.

“Aubree started getting into the pool before she was even one. Seeing her as a water baby made me rediscover my motivation to get back in the water again. I told myself I needed to do it for her,” says Lyndon, who now lives in Newcastle.

He returned to his gruelling training regime, using the pool and gym at The Louisa Centre, at Stanley, and buoyed by the support of Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne, who allowed him free use any of his gyms in the North-East.

Disaster struck in March last year when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, and the national lockdown led to swimming pools being closed, leaving Lyndon demoralised.

“When you’re disabled, it’s not so easy to go for a bike ride or a run, and training within the same four walls got me down,” he says.

But Lyndon has always found the answer to every challenge. He began to train outdoors: in the River Tyne at Chollerford, and the sea at Druridge Bay, with coach Paul Woodley, providing inspiration and helping him to overcome practical difficulties. Lyndon also acknowledges the “unbelievable support” he has had from his employer, EE, throughout his preparations.

“The North Sea can be really cold and rough, and trying to get your technique going in amongst the waves is hard, but it was better than nothing,” he explains. “It’s not just the physical benefits but the mental side too. I probably wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for the river and the sea, and Paul was amazing.”

All the hardship and sacrifice proved worthwhile on June 30 this year when a golden postcard dropped through Lyndon’s letterbox, with the words he’ll never forget: “Congratulations on making The Paralympic team.”

“I couldn’t believe it. I just thought ‘Oh, God, no – is this for real?’” he says.

In all, Lyndon went on to compete in eight Paralympic races in 10 days, achieving his target of reaching a final in the S4 100 metres freestyle, and setting a new British record. He’d set the record in the Paralympic trials back in April, achieving a time of 1 minute 38 seconds. He reduced that by four seconds in the Tokyo heats and shaved off another second in the final.

“After everything that had happened, it was always going to be a tough call to win a medal, but I wanted to go there, see what I could do. When I saw my name come up on the board for the Paralympic final, it was just unreal.”

Due to the time difference, Lyndon’s races were in the early hours of the morning, but Beth stayed up to watch them all. “From the day I said I wanted to make the Paralympics team, she’s been there with whatever help I needed,” he says.

Aubree was able to watch recordings and speak to Lyndon on the phone the following day. “Daddy, you’re a winner,” she told him after the final.

“They were both waiting at the airport when I got back, and that was brilliant. Now, I’m going to take a few weeks off from the pool and adjust. Everything about Tokyo was the most phenomenal experience, and it hasn’t sunk in yet,” he says.

But he won’t be resting for long – by the end of this month, he’ll be back in the water. “It's only three years to the Paris Paralympics, and I want a medal this time, so there’s work to be done,” he smiles.

Lyndon Longhorne, Paralympian, take a bow.