Never has a young woman been no aptly named.
Hope Gordon has already managed to both swim and row competitively for Scotland despite a rare pain condition causing constant agony in her left leg.
And now, five months after an operation to remove the limb, she’s training hard to swim at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Hope, originally from the Highlands, was naturally upset – but undaunted – when the NHS rejected her request for amputation. She just raised almost £10,000 to crowd-fund the private operation that would change her life forever last August.
Now 22 and studying and training in Edinburgh, Hope says: “I was determined to never stop swimming no matter what. But being in the pool post-amputation has been an entirely different experience. It’s like learning to swim again. Before, I couldn’t dive or kick or turn in a pool – now I can.”
Hope was only 12 when she developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a neurological condition that caused such excruciating pain she had to take up to 60 pills a day and survive on only a couple of hours sleep a night.
Despite this, she resolved to fight her condition. In her own words, sport “changed her life”, giving her renewed purpose and drive, and by her early twenties she was competing at an elite level.
One key obstacle was her disability classification. Under Para Swimming rules, Hope’s exceptional condition forced her to compete alongside swimmers who could use both legs.
She said: “I think classification was a big issue that prevented me getting to the Paralympics in Rio in 2016. Although I had both legs, I couldn’t use one of them at all, so it was like a dead weight. I just kept on swimming and completing personal bests, but now I’m confident I can go further.”
Her surgery was the turning point, not only competitively but also for her outlook and day-to-day life. After years of intense practical difficulties, Hope found that she was able to do things that most people take for granted, like getting through a door, sitting in a car with no difficulty and being able to cover her entire body with a duvet or blanket.
She said: “My entire family were so nervous for the operation – especially because there was a risk I could still have ‘phantom limb pain’, which would have meant the same soreness even post-amputation – but I was so ready for it. Luckily, it all went well. The doctor came through afterwards and just kept telling me I looked like a different person. I was just so much happier.”
Within weeks, Hope was walking with a prosthetic leg and sleeping six to eight hours a night. As well as studying and completing daily rehabilitation and physiotherapy, she’s now returned to doing two extensive training sessions every day.
Bruce Halloran, who’s coached her since the operation, described her progress as “unbelievably impressive”. The East Lothian swimming head coach said: “It’s inspirational how she just goes again and again. Her attitude towards getting the amputation was incredible because she’d been through a helluva lot, but she’s kept working so hard since then.
“There are simple technical things that she can do now that she simply couldn’t a few months ago. She can rotate in the pool, which should make her faster. She obviously doesn’t have the same balance that most swimmers have so we’ve had to really think outside the box, but once she’s mastered all these new techniques, we’ll be getting her race-ready.”
To qualify for the Commonwealth Games only a year after amputation would be an immense achievement, but Hope and her coach are confident of her chances. In order to make the Games’ 100m freestyle event, Hope ideally needs to drop her personal best time by four seconds at this year’s British summer meet.
Although this seems a lot in swimming terms, Bruce believes it’s more than possible. He said: “When you sit and think about it, there’s ways of doing it. She was hitting good times considering she couldn’t kick or turn. When everything works together, there could be some pretty dramatic drops. It’s a lot to do by July, but she’s already accomplished so much and is so committed.”
Despite her case having raised awareness of CRPS, Hope said she still finds it “odd” to be considered a role model. Nevertheless, the fact remains that she’s become a world-class sportswoman before even finishing her education.
While qualification would certainly be an astonishing feat, Hope has proven time and time again that nothing is beyond her.
She said: “I remember all those weeks and weeks of physiotherapy feeling frustrating before because nothing changed, whereas now I see improvements every day. I really want to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, but I also want to enjoy swimming as well. It’s great – it feels like I’m doing a completely new sport. Everything just feels so different now.”
To watch Jonathan Rimmer’s video about Hope from 2014, go here