Tully has overcome multiple injuries, illness and adversity to become one of Britain’s most exciting talents in the pool.
Her journey to the top of her beloved sport has been anything but straightforward, and she even had to learn to swim all over again when her condition deteriorated in the months leading up to the Rio Paralympics in 2016. She was one of Team GB’s leading young medal hopes at the games.
Born with mild cerebral palsy, which affects her legs and makes her left side weak, growing up Tully’s condition was relatively stable and not noticeable to others.
She became inspired to swim at the age of eight, after watching her brother Luke’s training session and the coach asked if she wanted to have a go.
When she turned 13, Tully’s condition worsened and she soon needed crutches as well as a wheelchair to get around.
After two years of tests, Tully was diagnosed with generalised dystonia, a progressive neurological condition which causes uncontrolled and sometimes painful muscle spasms.
She says, “It was a shock and was a very hard transition to make at that age, as it came at a time when all my friends were starting to be more independent and I felt I was starting to lose my independence.
“But my swimming has always given me something to focus on, be proud of and it helps take my mind off my disability.” Tully won a scholarship to the Royal Wolverhampton School’s elite swimming programme and started competing nationally in youth competitions.
In her first big competition, she won gold at the Disability Sport Championships in Sheffield and was soon noticed by British Swimming, who entered her into their talent pathway for potential world champions.
At her first international competition in Berlin, she won 10 medals, and in 2015, Tully became a four-time world champion at the IPC World Swimming Championships, a feat she said was a “dream come true”.
That year she was also shortlisted for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Award.
“Everything was going so well for me,” she said, but in 2016, before she was due to fly out to Rio for the Paralympics, Tully’s condition deteriorated suddenly and she had no option but to pull out.
Unable to swim competitively she lost her funding, and faced forced retirement from sport. She says, “I really struggled with my mental health. I felt like a failure and I didn’t know what to do with myself because I was no longer an athlete.”
After encouragement from her mum, Tully got back in the water, and began the long journey back towards her goal.
“I basically had to learn to swim again and discover what my body could still do or not do in the water.”
She was reclassified in 2017, and made a triumphant return to elite racing in 2018, winning gold and bronze at the European Championships.
Despite having shoulder surgery late last year in September, Tully won three golds at the Para Swimming World Championships.
Now 22, Tully says: “My life with dystonia has not been easy or straightforward, and the unpredictable nature of the condition can be hard to deal with.
“I am determined to carry on with my life and stay positive. My motto is, ‘Life… be in it’.”