Since the Paralympics I guess you could say I am living a ‘normal’ life again. I’m back in college and got lucky with my timetable. I only have class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays this term which means four-day weekends! Immediately after the Games I got away for a week’s holiday in Gran Canaria with my boyfriend and that was a nice distraction because, as much as I wanted to be at home and soaking up all the post-Games celebrations, it probably would have been a bit of an anti-climax in one way. This way I didn’t feel any slump at all.
Before I went away myself and (discus medallist) Niamh McCarthy were on the Late Late Show and Ryan Tubridy is so funny! We got to meet him beforehand and I have a friend who thinks he’s amazing but couldn’t come to the show, so I asked him if he’d do a video message for her with me and straightaway he agreed and did a great one.
Since coming back I’ve been to the Aras to meet the President with the whole Irish Paralympic team. He was actually on the Late Late the same night so we’d met him briefly then too. We got to bring one guest to the Aras so I brought my mum. It was my third visit there but it was different because, as a medallist, we went in first and had a group photo taken with Michael D and his wife. We were there for about two hours and had afternoon tea; scones with cream and jam, smoked salmon, lots of pretty tea-cakes and little truffles filled with edible green glitter. All the little cakes had a bit of green on them!
2016 was a whirlwind, such a roller-coaster ride. It was everything I thought it would be but things happened also that you couldn’t predict. I wanted it to be the perfect season but you’re never going to have a perfect season. I found myself facing a lot of different stresses this year but I think I learnt a lot about how to cope with them and how I need to relax. To be able to come out with a medal at the end of it all made it particularly great. When I came home and saw everyone’s reaction to the medal I realised I wasn’t on this journey on my own - the whole of Clontarf has been on this journey with me.
There was a reception for myself and Mick Clohisey (the Olympic marathon runner) in Clontarf Rugby Club and it was really nice to see everyone’s reaction at that. I also went to visit Belgrove Girls School, my old primary school. They had little swimming costumes hanging outside it! Leaving that primary school was one of the most heart-breaking moments of my life, I loved primary school that much! So I just can’t wait to go back.
I got back from my holidays at 8am on a Wednesday and went straight into college for 12 because everyone has been so supportive of me and I wanted to see everyone. I went into accounting in a big massive lecture hall. My class are combined with lots of others for accounting but, when I went in, my whole class started clapping and everyone else was like ‘what’s going on?’ When I graduate in a year and a half I’d really like to go into sports nutrition and develop new products. Nearly all cereal bars and convenience snacks for athletes are laced with sugar so I’m interested in getting all the goodness of a banana into a bar!
I went back training recently but just did an hour on four days, just floating along! Training won’t be intense for a while but I’ve gone back so that, when I’m ready to be fully back, it won’t be too much of a struggle. We have World Championships next year but they’re in Mexico City. We’ve never even trained at altitude and it’s in the middle of October which would really extend our season too so I don’t even know if we will do them yet, but the 2018 European Championships, which look likely to be held in Dublin where I train every day, is definitely a big target ahead.
Since the Paralympics I’m getting to enjoy all the things I didn’t get to do when I was training for the past two years – even simple things like going to birthday parties. I’ve missed some amount of birthday parties over my life. I’m also lucky enough to have been invited to some big upcoming events which will involve getting dressed up, which I love! The Irish Paralympic Awards are in early December and I received a nomination for the Tatler Women of the Year awards. Yet possibly the nicest thing since the Paralympics is that I’ve become so much closer with my college friends. I don’t think I allowed myself to embrace them as much as I could have over the last two years but, having time off now, and being able to spend time with them is wonderful. I can sit and have a coffee and a chat, I’m not rushing off to training. I’m like ‘so this is what normal people do every day?’
In some ways I appreciate it even more. When I’m not able to do things because of swimming I don’t miss them because I know why I’m training. I don’t feel bad at all. But now I’m probably enjoying myself more than anyone I’m spending time with. They’ll be like ‘oh this is a best coffee I’ve had all day’ and I’ll be like ‘no, this is the best coffee AND the comfiest seat…..and listen to those birds!
Ellen Keane (21), from Clontarf, is a three-time Paralympian and a three-time World Championship medallist in swimming, an all-rounder whose best events are 100m breaststroke, 100m individual medley (IM) and 100m butterfly. She made a Paralympic Games final, in Beijing 2008, when she was only 13 and, in her third Games in Rio de Janeiro, reached three finals and won bronze in the SB8 100m breaststroke. She combines training, six days a-week at the National Aquatic Centre (NAC) in Abbotstown, with studying ‘culinary entrepreneurship’ at DIT.