Swimmer recovers from rare muscle-weakening condition to reach North East finals

Jessica Gillatt
Jessica Gillatt

South Axholme Sharks swimmer Jessica Gillatt has qualified for this weekend’s North East Youth and Senior Championships less than four years after being diagnosed with a rare muscle-weakening condition.

The 19-year-old was told she had Myasthenia Gravis in late 2012 - a neuromuscular disease that leads to muscle weakness and fatigue.

Just months earlier she had recorded the fastest time for 50m breaststroke in the country for a 15-year-old with Doncaster Dartes and had accepted a scholarship at one of the country’s most prestigious clubs, Plymouth Leander.

However, her life was turned upside down when she began to develop strange symptoms that affected her arm strength, which became progressively worse and began to affect her speech, chewing and swallowing.

After being diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis - and being unable to even smile due to the failure of her facial muscles - Jessica underwent complex key-hole surgery in December 2013 to remove the Thymus gland from behind her heart.

From that point the road to recovery was slow and difficult. She could barely swim a length of the pool.

Nevertheless, Jessica returned to swimming with the Sharks in 2014 and was awarded ‘Most Improved Senior Girl’ by the club in 2015.

Her remarkable recovery continued this year at the Yorkshire Championships, where her times saw her qualify for this weekend’s NERs in Sunderland.

Sharks’ press secretary Zoe Exton said: “It has been the privilege of the club to witness her resilience in battling her way back from the illness that may have so easily put paid to competitive swimming at any level.

“To think she is now two years into her recovery, mixing it with the best of the North East again is an incredible achievement and testament to her potential.

“It cannot have been an easy decision to come back to our small swimming club but we hope in doing so, Jessica is now back on the road to success in life which her courage richly deserves.”

Jessica will compete in the 50m freestyle and 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke this weekend.

She will be joined in the north east by fellow senior Shark swimmer Jonathan Grayson, who will compete in the 50m butterfly.

Zoe added: “It is massively important to have swimmers of their stature train alongside our younger hopefuls as it makes our younger swimmers’ ambitions and dreams a more tangible reality.

“Both the Sharks senior swimmers conduct themselves with quiet confidence and humility, attributes often associated with successful athletes. We wish them both well at the North Easterns, they are champions of our club whatever the results.”