GOLD medal-winning swimmer Hannah Russell hopes her exploits at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in the summer can inspire the next generation.

The Ottershaw star won two medals in Japan, retaining her S12 women’s 100m backstroke title and clinching bronze in the S12 100m freestyle.

She visited the News & Mail offices in Knaphill to show staff her medals and give an exclusive interview. Hannah wrote a special diary column for the News & Mail throughout her Paralympic journey, and she hopes others can relate to her story.

She said: “Inspiring up-and-coming youngsters is really important to me. It’s one of the reasons why I love what I do.

“Whilst I’ve been at home in Ottershaw, I’ve been going into local primary schools, including The Holy Family Primary School [in Addlestone] where I spent seven years as a child. The kids’ smiles and just seeing them in awe looking at the medals – that’s why I do it.

“It doesn’t have to be sport – it can be anything – but I want to be able to help others believe in their ability.”

This week she will be heading back to Manchester, where she is based for training. And there will be little rest as she looks ahead to a big 2022.

Hannah said: “For me to retain my Paralympic backstroke title was a dream come true. Now I’m looking forward to the Commonwealth Games next year in Birmingham. Slowly but surely, I’ll be starting my training back up.

“In my 11 years in international competition I’ve never had the opportunity to try to strive towards the Commonwealth Games because my event has never been included. But I’m really fortunate that in Birmingham it will be the first time they’ll have a visual-impairment classification race. I was delighted when I heard that. It will be the 50m freestyle, so that’s my next goal and the event I’ll be focusing on in the next year.

“I’ve only had a month off after Tokyo because we need to be back in the water ahead of our trials in February.

“But I’ve really tried to make sure I’ve relaxed and rested, and enjoyed things I’ve maybe missed out on over the past couple of years.”

Hannah’s motivation came from within as a little girl. While her parents supported her dreams when she was a child, they would not lead her. She had to be the one who wanted to set out on this road.

Her father, Carson Russell, told the News & Mail that when competition was becoming serious, she had to be the one who was pushing to be taken to training sessions – and she had to wake him up every morning to ask to go, otherwise he would not take her. He would not wake her up; he would not be a pushy parent.

Much of her early training was at Woking Swimming Club. She moved to Guildford City Swimming Club when she was 12 years old.

The youngster would train before and after school every day, often not finishing until 10.30pm.

She switched from Gordon’s School at West End to Kelly College, an independent school near Tavistock in west Devon, where she was scouted as a talented young swimmer with a disability.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.