Bright Young Thing - Gemma Spofforth

World champion backstroke swimmer Gemma Spofforth on psychology, her inspiration and why her heart belongs in Slindon

Tell us about yourself

I’m 22 and was born in Shoreham-by-Sea, and am a 100m backstroke world champion. I grew up in Slindon and love the area, often visiting my family and friends who live there. I discovered my love for swimming in the Littlehampton Swimming and Sports Centre pool.

I suffered with pancreatitis in 2005 and had to take a year out of the water, but I decided to continue training at Portsmouth High School. I went on to represent Britain at the 2008 Summer Olympics, coming 4th in the 100m and 9th in the 200m backstroke swimming events.

I decided to train and study psychology at the University of Florida and am now in my final year. I have a fantastic English coach, Martyn Wilby, who is helping me to prepare for the Commonwealth Games in October, and I hope to build on my success at the 2009 World Aquatic Championships in Rome as I won a gold medal in the 100m backstroke, in a world record time of 58.12 seconds.

What are your interests?

I am very interested in psychology and counselling. Each week I cover a four-hour shift at a crisis centre in Gainesville Florida. It is similar to the Samaritans and involves taking calls from a suicide hotline and helping people in crisis.

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My passion is swimming and I spend most of my time in the pool. I am up and in the water by 5.30am and spend around six hours training every day. Outside of swimming I also love to write, and I am in the process of writing a book and really enjoy working on it.

What are your future ambitions?

I am looking towards 2012 as it is a major goal in my life. I am going to focus on getting ready for the Olympics and will do the best I can to achieve a gold in home waters. 

I also plan to further my career in counselling and suicidology. I would like to use the skills I have gained through training at the crisis centre, and the captaincy skills attained through swimming, to help people.

What do you do for fun?

I always love to sit on the beach, relax with friends and enjoy the company of new people. I just had the most amazing time visiting a lake here in Florida, staying in a log cabin. I feel so lucky.


Who is your biggest inspiration, and why?

My mother. She battled cancer for four years and her strength has had the biggest impact on my life. She died in 2007 and I dedicate every race to her. Without her I couldn’t have achieved so much. Thinking of her gives me the motivation to continue doing what I do, and her strength is with me every single day.

What was the last book you read?

Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I enjoyed the way it was written and it gave me inspiration for my book.

It was so perfect, and in a style that

I am using for mine. It is intelligent, humorous and very entertaining.

What’s the best thing about Sussex?

My heart belongs here as my family home has been in Slindon for more than 20 years. It is my home and the country lifestyle is perfect, quiet and relaxing. It is such a beautiful county and I adore the coast.

Are you a Bright Young Thing?

Or do you know someone who is? We’re on the lookout for talented youngsters making a splash in the world. So whether you’re a budding artist, musician, sport star or academic, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch by emailing

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