A Sunbury Heights Primary School pupil is continuing to defy the odds, overcoming a birth defect, relative inexperience and the death of her mother, on her way to picking up a swag of swimming ribbons.

Lilly Rowbottom, who started swimming in May, 2013, was the toast of her school after winning the 50-metre breaststroke and backstroke at a regional meet in Northcote last week.

The nine-year-old’s sister and guardian, Megan Rowbottom, said Lilly had been unable to complete a couple of strokes or even breathe under water before starting intensive classes at Sunbury Aquatic and Leisure Centre.

‘‘She’s come so far, so quickly,’’ Ms Rowbottom said. ‘‘It’s been a real spin-out for us.’’

Lilly was born without a right hand after an amniotic band cut off circulation while she was in-utero.

‘‘When my mum was pregnant, we went for her 20-week ultrasound and Lilly’s hand was gone,’’ Ms Rowbottom said.

‘‘But we’ve always said she’s lucky because it could have wrapped around her neck.

‘‘Losing an arm versus what she could have lost – we’re grateful for that.’’


Ms Rowbottom said Lilly refused to let disability hold her back.

‘‘She’s the kind of kid who just tries to adapt to everything she can,” Ms Rowbottom said.

‘‘My own little one’s got a small motorbike, and obviously the throttle is on Lilly’s stump side. Realistically, she shouldn’t be able to ride it, but she’s got a baby bottle cap and a zip-tie tied to the throttle. She sticks her stump in it and makes it go.

‘‘She always comes up with little ways to get on with it. The only thing she really has trouble with is doing her hair and cutting her food.’’

Swimming has provided Lilly with a valuable outlet, especially since the death of her mother in November, 2014.

‘‘Mum was diagnosed with stage three cancer in October, 2013, and she passed away the next November,’’ Ms Rowbottom said.

‘‘Lilly’s swimming has certainly helped her. Even now, every Monday she does swimming … it’s just her favourite time of the week.’’

Ms Rowbottom leads a busy life herself, juggling caring for Lilly with the needs of four children of her own.

She’s also studying to be a teacher’s aide and started her first placement at Sunbury Heights last week.

Paralympics ambitions

‘‘Trying to juggle it all, we’re busy, but we make it work,’’ Ms Rowbottom said, adding that extended family and the school had also provided great support. ‘‘You can’t stop life. You just get on with things.’’

Lilly’s family is waiting to hear if she will progress directly to the Schools Sports Victoria state titles, with the outcome dependent on a points total.

The grade 4 pupil dreams of one day becoming a Paralympic athlete.

‘‘She’s always on about that – that’s why she pushes herself so much,’’ Ms Rowbottom said.

‘‘Mum would be so proud.’’