Swimmer Alice Tai, from Great Britain, recently won the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke event of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games — just months after having her right leg amputated below the knee.
The 23-year-old para-swimmer earned her 100m backstroke gold on July 31 with a time of 1:13:64 as part of a competition she wasn’t even sure she’d be able to compete in earlier this year. Now, her story of tenacity and determination is rippling across the world and inspiring so many others.
The Commonwealth Games shared a video clip celebrating Tai’s accomplishment on their official Twitter account:
January 2022: @alice__tai has her right leg amputated below the knee due to increased pain in her foot.
July 2022: Alice Tai wins #CommonwealthGames gold in the S8 100m Backstroke at Sandwell!
— Birmingham 2022 (@birminghamcg22) July 31, 2022
Tai talked to the BBC shortly after her gold-medal swim about her gratitude for even being able to be at the event after her recent surgery.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to race this season,” she told BBC Sport. “I’m so grateful that Team England let me come here and compete.”
The Commonwealth Games is a similar event to the Olympics; it’s held every four years among countries that belong to the Commonwealth of Nations, many of which either currently belong to the British Commonwealth or have some previous association with Britain.
Tai was born with bilateral talipes, also known as clubfoot. It’s a “congenital foot deformity that affects a child’s bones, muscles, tendons, and blood vessels,” according to Boston Children’s Hospital. This condition causes the front of a foot to turn inward and forces the heel to point down.
In Tai’s case, surgeries and treatments for her condition as she matured left her in pain and forced her to use crutches. However, that prolonged use of crutches caused issues with her arms and interfered with her swimming.
Despite her challenges, she became a leader in her sport and won a gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio — and went on to win seven gold medals at the 2019 games. But, when arm surgery forced Tai to withdraw from the 2021 Paralympic Games, she made a choice that many would do anything to avoid.
“Last year, I realised I was wasting time,” Tai shared in a Twitter post on Jan. 19 updating her followers on her post-surgery progress. “If a better quality of life was possible (crutch free, less likely to wreck me arms), what was I waiting for?”
The road to her gold medal wasn’t easy, though. She told the Access All podcast that she had to practically start over to re-learn the essentials for every swimming stroke after having her leg amputated below the knee.
“I think the training, it was just re-learning to swim and not over-compensating, to allow for the imbalance that the amputation caused,” she said in the podcast. “So, I had to strip all my strokes back to basics and work really hard with my coach to make sure I was even in the water. But it’s interesting because now my stroke efficiency is actually better than it was when I had both legs. My swim coach reckons that I can go faster just from my stroke being more efficient.”
Her hard work paid off, and now she’s back in gold medal form! Congratulations to this amazing athlete and we can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next!