When Esther Overton had both her legs amputated about one year ago, her friends and family doubted whether the 33-year-old Paralympian could come out of retirement to begin swimming again.
Determined to prove them wrong, Overton, who was born with a condition causing significant muscle weakness, jumped back in the pool and set her sights on returning to the Australian Paralympic team.
“If I ever wanted to do something in life, I’ve always had to work hard to make that happen,” she said.
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“Just wanting to be as independent as possible has made me determined.”
Her coach, Shelly Marie Jarrett has trained Australian swimming champions, including Kyle Chalmers, and said the 33-year-old Adelaide woman had a mental strength and persistence that few others possessed.
“Her ability to push herself is exceptional because every day she lives with pain of some sort, but mentally she is able to override that to train and to compete,” Jarrett said.
“Watch Ester train and it totally changes your viewpoint”
Esther Overton is a S1 class swimmer, who hopes to compete in the 2028 Paralympics. Credit: 7NEWS
Overton has a medical condition known as arthrogryposis multiplex congenita that causes joint contractures and fragile bones.
She’s broken her arm 40 times simply from bending it while eating, or falling while walking.
As an infant, Overton was taken swimming to strengthen her muscles, and as she grew older, so did her love for the sport.
When swimming, she used her head, thighs and truck to steer her through the water because she cannot use her arms.
“When I’m in the water, it’s the only place when I’m truly independent, I don’t need to rely on anyone else to move in the water and that just makes me feel so happy and free,” Overton said.
It was after a family road trip to see the 2000 Sydney Olympics that Overton was inspired to swim professionally as she watched the Paralympians prove on the world stage that living with a disability was not the end of their dreams.
Esther Overton said she feels more independent while swimming. Credit: 7NEWSEsther Overton competed in the 2012 London Paralympics before she retired. Credit: Supplied
At 12 years old, Overton was enrolled into a swimming club and as her coaches saw her potential, she began training for international competitions.
During the 2006 International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships in Durban, South Africa, she won two silver medals for the 50m butterfly and 50m backstroke while classed as an S1 swimmer (for athletes with significant muscle power loss).
Three years later, in 2008, she achieved her dreams when she swam the 50m freestyle and 50m backstroke at the Beijing Olympics.
The 2012 London Olympics was Overton’s final competition for more than a decade.
She said she wasn’t ready to give up professional swimming at just 22, but after multiple injuries, including with her knees, she was forced to retire early.
“My knees have been a problem for many, many years since I started swimming, and they had got to the point that they were so bad that there was nothing else that could be done,” Overton said.
Esther Overton has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita that causes joint contractures and a tendency for bones to easily break. Credit: 7NEWS
“Medication wasn’t working, there were no other surgeries, I literally couldn’t get out of bed it was that bad, so the only thing left to be done was amputation.”
Overton’s first leg was amputated in November 2022, and her second in February 2023.
She described it as being a massive relief after struggling with the pain for so long.
Soon after the surgeries, Overton was back in the pool for rehabilitation, this time with an entirely different body that wasn’t accustomed to having no legs.
“The first time I got back in the water, I thought I was going to drown. Thank goodness someone hopped in the water with me because otherwise I really think I would have. It was a disaster, I thought, ‘I really can’t swim anymore’,” Overton said.
“But within a few weeks, things turned around, and I found my balance in the water.”
Esther uses her head, trunk and upper legs to guide her through the water. Credit: 7NEWS
As she became more comfortable in the pool and strengthened her core muscles for balance, the thought of returning to professional swimming didn’t seem unachievable.
“I was getting faster and faster and I kind of got to the point where I was like maybe I could make an actual goal of this and make a comeback.”
“I missed the pool, I love being in the water, and I was just glad to have the opportunity.”
Saturday, November 18 will be Overton’s first race since her amputations, and while she’s “terrified”, she’s remaining positive.
She’s hoping within the next 12 months she will be offered a spot on the Australian team for the 2025 World Para Swimming Championships and then the Los Angeles Paralympics in 2028.
Jarrett said with Overton’s attitude, big dreams were possible.
“She wants to work hard and wants to train hard … she just has that inner drive to overcome and push herself. I just get a sense nothing is too hard for her,” she said.
Shelly Marie Jarrett has been Esther Overton’s coach for 13-years. Credit: 7NEWS
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