Ireland's fastest woman Danielle Hill aiming for Olympic Games spot
LARNE swimmer Danielle Hill has her sights firmly fixed on competing at next year’s 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo after breaking an incredible four Irish senior national records in Dublin last month.
The 19-year-old’s feat was all the more remarkable after she recovered from a career-threatening elbow injury at last year’s national meet that kept her out of the water for four months.
The Carnmoney teenager set new times in the 50m freestyle (25.29), 100m freestyle (56.01), 50m backstroke (27.95) and 100m backstroke (1.01.08). She also finished second in the 50m fly.
Now, Hill wants to crack Olympic qualification time trials next April in the 100m backstroke event.
“It’s quite scary,” she said of aiming for a place at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. “It’s not a bad scary. But it is no longer a dream – it has now become a reality.
“After the results in Dublin I only have to take a second off my time – when I say ‘only’, a second is quite a lot – but with a full year of training I don’t why it’s not possible because I was previously going into trials with only six months of training… so to have a nine or 12 months behind me my chances are better.”
Disaster struck at last year’s Irish national championships when Hill suffered a horrible elbow injury during her pool warm-up.
Hill, who competed in last year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast, revealed she had to learn how to swim again and how the injury made her mentally tougher.
“It was just a freak accident,” she said. “You couldn’t write it. We do a thing called over speed-work. So we get a stretch cord attached to our waist and we get pulled in on a bungee and that’s what I was doing at the time with one of my team-mates.
“We’d been doing it for three weeks prior, but it was literally a fraction too late [it was released]. I’d glided into the wall but I was still at speed and whatever way I hit that wall my arm didn’t like it.
“I’m quite hyper-extendable in my elbows and my joints so that didn’t help.”
Hill suffered a dislocated elbow where the ligament became detached from the bone. She opted for surgery when the injury wasn’t healing naturally.
“It put me out of the water for four months and I had a month of trying to remember how to swim again… I went a few days where I was thinking: ‘What’s the point? I’m going to have to go back to the start.’
“I would have to get my technique right again, I thought my elbow’s not going to be strong. But I have such a great team and great physios and all my team-mates who were all there when I needed them.
“They didn’t really let me get negative thoughts into my head. I didn’t really have time to sit back and think too much about what happened.”
Hill expressed her eternal gratitude to her coach Peter Hill, nutritionists Julianne Larkin, the physios at SINI [Sports Institute Northern Ireland] and Ulster rugby as well as surgeon Michael Eames, all of whom made it possible for her to get back to elite level.
“I’ve never really had a serious injury before. I had shin splints which was six weeks of backing off in training but to be out of the water for four months was damaging. I was in the gym every day so I never allowed myself to get to the point where I was feeling sorry for myself.
“I would never want anyone to experience that kind of injury,” she added. “It was horrible. The ligament had come off the joint.
“My arm was put in a brace at 90 degrees and it was thought the ligament would re-join by itself. But that didn’t happen and I needed surgery to get it re-attached.”
The fear of not reaching elite level again has made Hill mentally stronger and a better swimmer.
“Technique-wise, we had to go back to square one. I had to learn it all again. We’ve worked on so much in the gym in terms of shoulder strength and that has helped with the results that we got.”
Out of the four Irish national records Hill smashed in Dublin she was most proud of her performance in the 100m free as Sycerika McMahon’s previous record had stood for several years.
“We’ve never had anyone that has broke 57 seconds – so to go 56.01 and be so close to going 55, we’ve never really had that in Ireland.”
Hill feels her strongest event is 50m backstroke but it is not an Olympic event.
“I have to change focus to the 100m backstroke, so whenever I go to qualifying galas or trials that’s the only thing I can qualify through.”
With roughly eight months preparation, Hill is confident she can shave the guts of a second off her best time to reach next year’s Olympic Games.
“With my capabilities I think I should be a 60.25 that I need. The best I’ve swam is 61.08. I feel that I should be a 60-point swimmer but the training that I’ve done hasn’t really backed that up because of the injury, but I’ve plenty of preparation time to get my time down.
“But you’ve got to be on it on the day. The 2024 Olympics is my ultimate aim for a podium appearance. Missing 2020 would obviously be devastating but it won’t be the end of the world.”
Hill, who swam out of the Templemore Club before moving to Larne in 2014, was just 12 when she won her first British title.
It was Hill's former coach Fiona Hillier that lit the fire in her as a youngster, commenting that she “changed my whole perspective on swimming and I just knew through winning that first British title that I could challenge for different things.
“I also had to decide between football and swimming and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a swimmer.”