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Paralympian Turns Wedding Planner

Paralympic gold-medal swimmer Natalie Jones is gearing up for the London games - and a new career in wedding planning

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Swimming prodigy Natalie Jones dived into her first Paralympic games when she was just 15 years old – then went on to win double gold in Athens in 2004 and two bronze medals in Beijing in 2008. Now, with her eyes on the prize for London 2012 (likely to be her last international meet, she says), she talks to You & Your Wedding about prepping for the games, life as a newlywed and her next big project: launching her own wedding-planning business.

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Q: 2012 is a leap year, of course, and last time around, in 2008, your husband (British Para-cyclist Rik Waddon) proposed! Did he catch you off guard?
A: He did it in our favourite restaurant on 29 February. I think he was surprised because he thought I would propose, but I’m quite old-fashioned on things like that!

Q: You two tied the knot in October 2010, in the middle of a gruelling training and competition schedule. How did you manage it all?
A: We had the World Championships six weeks before the wedding, so everything had to be done before we went away, which was crazy! But my mum and dad were fantastic, I don’t know what I’d have done without them. I really wasn’t stressed about the planning itself, because I knew exactly what I wanted. The only tricky bit was coordinating dress fittings for the bridesmaids, because they were in Essex and I was in Lancashire!

Q: And you loved the experience so much, you’re now launching your own wedding-planning business?
A: The whole thing was really fantastic. If I could do it all again I would – if I could afford it! About a year before our wedding, I imagined exactly how it was going to be – the colours, what the bridesmaids were going to look like – and that’s what I want to produce for other couples. To help them imagine their days. I took a training course from the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners, and I’ve been bouncing off the walls with excitement to get started ever since. I don’t want to reveal the name of my company just yet, and I’m going to get a logo sorted soon. But, of course, I’ve got some other things going on!

Q: Like preparing for the London games! What’s your training schedule like at the moment?
A: Rik and I are both trying to qualify for the London games right now, so it’s tough for both of us – though it definitely helps that we’re both in sport. I’m getting up at 5am and not getting home till half past 6pm, doing nine two-hour pool sessions a week plus three one-hour gym sessions.

Q: How are you feeling about retiring from swimming after the summer games?
A: It’s bittersweet, because swimming has been my life for 18 years. But it’s exciting to know I’ve got something great in the pipeline. And we still haven’t had time to go on our honeymoon yet! We don’t know where we want to go and haven’t planned anything yet, but that’s Rik’s job. I did the wedding!

Championship Alert! Click here youandyourwedding.co.uk/competitions/22145  for a chance to win tickets to The British Gas Swimming Championships – the first swimming event to be held in the London Aquatics Centre – where elite swimmers like Natalie Jones and Rebecca Adlington will compete for their place in the London games!

Natalie Jones is a member of the British Gas GBR Disability Swimming Team. The British Gas Swimming Championships 2012 (selection trials) run from 3-10 March at the London Aquatics Centre. Visit swimming.org/britishswimming/2012trials for more details.

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Words by Julia Scirrotto