AN inspirational paraplegic athlete has been honoured for her courage at this year’s prestigious Pride of Essex Awards.

Talented swimmer Ellie May Challis, 14, was awarded the inspirational youth award at a ceremony staged at Anglia Ruskin University.

Despite having lost her arms and legs to meningitis when she was just 16 months old, the resilient swimmer has demonstrated her talent and determination.

The teenager, who competes for the Phoenix Swimming Club in Colchester, has an ultra-competitive and independent streak which has seen her strike gold.

Ellie May, of Weeley Road, Little Clacton, first hit the headlines in 2009 by becoming the youngest person in the world to be fitted with special carbon-framed limbs, made for her at a cost of £10,000.

Aged five, she moved with her mum Lisa, dad Paul, twin sister Sophie, sister Tai-la, ten, and brother Connor, to a home in Little Clacton to make it easier for her to move about.

Despite her challenges, she has gone on to become a swimming sensation including smashing a British record at the Junior Para National Championships earlier this year.

She had previously ended 2016 in fantastic form winning three golds in her classification for 50 metre breaststroke, 50 metre freestyle and 150 metre individual medley at the Para National Championships.

Then competing a year later in 2017, she smashed the S2 class 50 metre breaststroke record, set 25 years ago in the Barcelona Paralympics, by 1.4 seconds.

She took four gold medals in total, winning the 50 metre breaststroke and backstroke, the 100 metre freestyle and the 150 metre individual medley.

All the swims were again personal bests and regional records.

In April, she eclipsed her own SB2 50 metres breaststroke British record by nearly two seconds, at the Junior Para National Championships in Southampton.

More success followed as she won five gold medals, all in regional record times.

Phoenix coach Julie Jago said Ellie works hard in training and described her as “a shining example to all”. A spokesman for the Pride in Essex Award added: “Her father Paul told us that she is eagerly looking forward to the 2018 British Nationals next month.

“Now that she has been advanced to the British national programme, who is to say what she can achieve at a future Olympic swim.”