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Sydney University Elite Athlete Program scholarship holder and disability swimmer Sarah Hilt has proven that anything is possible, with the application of hard work and a spades of determination.

After a meteoric rise through the disability swimming ranks, Hilt has won selection in the Australian team for the Para Pan Pacs to be held in Canada in August.

Hilt was diagnosed with meningococcal in October 2004 and has had countless operations, including a kidney transplant in November 2008. She is a huge believer that sport, and in particular swimming, has helped her to improve all of the areas of her life.

“Try as many sports as you can until you find one that suits you,” Hilt says. “I would recommend swimming because most people can do some sort of swimming and I’ve just found that it’s improved my life so much.

“I’ve become a lot stronger, much healthier. I’ve noticed a real change in myself. But also being involved in a squad and back with other people really provides you with another social network, which is something that I was missing out on when I was sick and had to spend a lot of one on one time in rehab.”

Earlier in the year Hilt swam at the NSW titles, and on the back of some impressive results she was asked to join the Sydney University Swim Club.

“It all just happened really quickly. I met the swim team at the State titles. They were really keen and positive and willing to make things happen. I started over here two weeks later and I haven’t looked back. They have slotted me into their elite squad without a problem and I’m just so grateful for that. It’s been excellent.”

Under the tutelage of coach Vanessa Smith, Hilt, 25, put in a solid five weeks of full-time training in the lead-up to the nationals at Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre in early April.

All of her hard work paid off when she swam a Pan Pacs qualifying time for the 50m backstroke (S4 category) to earn a spot in the national team.

Given the phenomenal improvement in her times this year it is no surprise that the full impact of her achievements are yet to properly sink in.

“I didn’t know that my times were good for my classification until I started competing, and then I realised that maybe there was a future in this,” she says.

“I was really enjoying it and I competed at State titles and I got some good results, and then I met the people at Sydney Uni and since then it’s really become a competitive focus in my life.“

Hilt’s swimming goals started small. She was training one day a week. Now, you’d be mistaken for thinking that all she does is eat, sleep and train.

“A typical week would involve six swimming sessions (an hour-and-a-half each one), and before most of those I do half-an-hour of dry land (which is abs and core work – primarily stability type things) and then I’ve also been doing three sessions a week with a personal trainer.”

Despite the hectic nature of her training Hilt still finds the time to study for a Bachelor of Economics and Social Science (Marketing Honours) degree at Sydney University. Something she heavily credits the Sydney University Elite Athlete Program for assisting her with.

“They’ve helped with adjustments with my study and they’ve helped me to fit my uni requirements around my swimming,” she says.

In the short term, Hilt has the Australian Short Course Championships coming up in Adelaide in July, after which she will compete at the Queensland Championships. But her main focus is the Para Pan Pacs in Canada in August, and then hopefully earning qualification into the Paralympic team for 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“It’s all building towards London,” she says. “It makes me think it’s a possibility – something I’d never thought about.”

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