Simply making it to the starting blocks at Birmingham 2022 will be a remarkable achievement for Alice Tai after four separate surgeries over the past 12 months.
A Paralympic champion in the pool in Rio back in 2016, the 23-year-old Tai had to watch on in Tokyo last year as an elbow injury kept her out of the Games.
That issue required surgery but also had far-reaching implications, leading to Tai having her right foot amputated in January.
It has been a drawn-out process and has involved re-learning how to swim, as well as adjusting in everyday life.
She explained: “I had my amputation back in January and then I fell over so I had to have wound revision again so I went back into surgery in March.
“Before the amputation, I didn’t really use my right leg anyway. A lot of people were telling me that I’d try to get out of bed and put my right foot down, so I had to remember otherwise I’d hurt myself.
“But I’ve never had that because I’ve never led with my right foot anyway. It’s just been interesting, the whole journey with the prosthetic, having bad days and good days, I’m still getting used to it. But there are little things, I can nip across to the supermarket and get my shopping and carry it in my hands instead of taking a rucksack. I’ve been savouring those little moments.
“The pain fluctuates, sometimes I’ll have a really good day and I’ll be able to do way more than I would have been able to do at the start but then other days, the prosthetic doesn’t fit or it isn’t on properly and I can’t seem to adjust it.
“Sometimes my left leg starts hurting because the condition I have in my right leg, I have in my left as well, so sometimes it gets too much for my left leg, even when my right leg is ok. So I’m learning where my boundaries are because I’m a bit stubborn and I like to try to do everything.”
After 12 months out of the water, Tai impressed in her first international meet back, winning a silver medal at the recent World Championships in Madeira.
She is now preparing for the main event this summer, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, having claimed a gold and a silver four years ago in the Gold Coast.
This time around, she will compete in the 100m freestyle and the 100m backstroke, with the latter the event she is really targeting.
But Tai, who trains in Ealing, admits that she is still a long way from being at the peak of her potential because of the disrupted nature of the past year.
She said: “Even back in 2019, I would say I was at 80 percent capacity. I had an injury in my elbow which kickstarted the process of looking into amputation because crutches weren’t an option anymore. Since then, I’ve not been able to train properly.
“In the last year I have had four surgeries, both arms, my amputation and then the wound revision. So I don’t think I’m race-fit yet. I’ll go in and give it my best shot but I definitely don’t have the fitness to go out like crazy in the race and hold on for the last 20 metres so I’ll have to be a bit more smart with my racing rather than gutsy.
“I’ve found the mornings the hardest. I’ve had a year of recovery post-surgery and now I’m having to get up at four, half-four, to get to training. So getting back to that routine has been the hardest.
“But I really love training, I love getting in the pool, doing a really good session, racing my teammates. But I’m not allowed to join in with everything 100 percent yet because of where I am in my season and also the last couple of years.”
After spending the Tokyo Games working as a pundit on Channel 4, Tai will be back where she belongs in Birmingham, racing.
And whether she can add to her medal collection or not, that alone is a victory.