Preston golden girl Stephanie Slater has retired from competitive swimming.
The 27-year-old, who hails from Longridge, has been forced to quit the pool due to an on-going neck injury.
It brings an end to a glittering swimming career, which peaked at the 2016 Paralympic Games, in Rio, when she won gold and silver medals.
The former St Cecilia’s High School pupil revealed that many tears had been shed before reaching the decision.
“It breaks my heart for me to say that after 19 years of competitive swimming I am going to have to hang up my hat and goggles on medical grounds for my own safety and wellbeing,” said Slater, who used to train at Preston Swimming Club.
“It has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make and I have shed many tears over this - probably enough tears to fill a 50m swimming pool.
“It is not the way I wanted to retire. I have thought long and hard and explored all options with my medical and support teams about this hard decision but at the end of the day I have to think about my health and well-being long term.
“It came down to the fact that just one wrong dive or turn could cause a life changing injury.
“It is heart breaking for me because I felt potentially I had more to give in the pool but having sadly I have been battling for the last three years with a decline in my health, this must be my number one priority now.”
A junior elite athlete, who had targeted the London Olympic Games in 2012, Slater’s world was turned upside down in 2010 when she suffered a mysterious arm injury when diving into the pool.
The injury was later diagnosed as nerve damage to brachial plexus and ended her career as an able-bodied athlete, with a specialist informing her that she may never be able to swim again.
Undeterred, Slater decided to get back in the pool as a paraswimmer – being inspired to do so after acting as a Gamesmaker at the London 2012 Paralympics.
She targeted the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio and fulfilled all of her dreams by winning a gold in the 4x100m medley relay as well as silver in the S8 100m butterfly.
A former World and European champion, Slater – who also won silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 – plans to stay involved in the sport and hopes to inspire the next generation of swimmers.
“Swimming will always be a part of my life and I hope to continue inspiring the next generation by proving anything is possible,” said Slater, who was awarded a MBE for her achievements in Rio.
Chris Furber, National Performance Director for British Para-Swimming said: “Stephanie has been a great ambassador for our programme and I know that this has been a really challenging decision to make.
Her former swimming coach Steve Heaps added: “Steph has shown through extraordinary performances against the utmost adversity imaginable what can be achieved. She is a true role model in every sense of the word and an extraordinary athlete and fierce competitor.”