Meghan Willis is the youngest member of para swimming squad heading to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games this summer, but the 14-year-old is taking things in her stride as she prepares to take on the best swimmers on the planet.
The Cwmbran swimmer will race the SM10 200IM Individual Medley on the back of a breakthrough year. In the last 12 months, Willis has continued her rapid rise, posting fast times and inspiring others affected by upper limb deficiencies.
The Torfaen Dolphin will compete in the same event as Wales teammate Rebecca Lewis, and is relishing her moment in the Commonwealth Games spotlight.
“It was a real shock when I found out, we were having a nose at everyone else’s times and I wasn’t sure whether I’d get in as the last qualifier or not,” she said.
“In my head, I’d told myself that it was fine if I didn’t make it, I would always be able to have another shot. So when I found out it was a bit of a shock and it took a while to settle in. I think it was the next day when I realised I was actually going! It was quite surreal.
“I started off this year really well, but I got reclassified internationally. I went up a class which we weren’t expecting, but I had to re-jig my thoughts and change what I was working towards because the races were different.
“I get more excited than nervous; I try to stay as cool as a cucumber. When the build-up starts to get more intense the nerves might start to come in, but I’m just keeping happy and excited for now.”
Willis has helped other young people with upper limb deficiencies believe in their own ability through her work with Reach, a charity who help children with upper limb differences live life without limits. After going through her own challenges growing up, she’s determined to inspire others to become active through sport.
“I try to inspire others with disabilities,” she said. “I’m an STA ambassador, and I try to promote the ability over disability. I’m also working with a charity called Reach, who work with kids with upper limb deficiencies. I get told that they’re inspired by me and I hope I’ve been able to let them know that they can do whatever they want and that disability doesn’t matter.
“I’ve had challenges with kids saying stuff and struggles doing things and not understanding why. But my mum and dad have been great doing that when I was younger, they stepped back and let me do things myself. There have been some struggles on the way.”
After qualifying as one of the top eight swimmers in the Commonwealth in her event, Willis is heading to the newly built Sandwell Aquatics Centre to compete. She will be roared on by her family in the stands, and she cannot wait to get a taste of the red-hot atmosphere at the Games.
“The whole family managed to get tickets,” she added. “My grandparents have got tickets for the heats and the finals and then my parents have got tickets for the finals so they will all be there, and you’ll definitely be able to hear them.
“The support will be amazing there. I can’t wait, I’m a bit nervous but once I get there, get settled in and get to know people I’ll be absolutely fine.
“I’m going to try and take each day as it comes, I don’t want to set my expectations too high and get myself scared so I’ll take it all in and see how it goes.”