IT’S just two weeks since Paralympics Ireland formally announced the team for Rio and somehow it made everything a bit more real. It kinda hit home just how quickly they’re coming now! They held the team announcement at Dublin City Hall. It was great to have it in such a historic and beautiful building and my mom and dad came to it. Our chef de mission Denis (Toomey) introduced each athlete one-by-one and did it alphabetically. That meant us swimmers were last out. Just as he got to us Hayley, our team manager, decided to get a really funny photo of us all together and, for some reason, it’s been circulating everywhere on social media.
There were lots of photos and media interviews afterwards. Something really nice was that, when I went off to get a photograph taken at the end, this woman grabbed me out of nowhere. She turned out to be Sinead McNulty, the Head of Sport at DIT, where I go to college! It was really nice of her to come along to the launch, I wasn’t expecting that. It was nice too to see what the Irish team for Rio looks like. There’s over 40 of us and just four swimmers. Some faces were familiar but some were completely new to me.
Afterwards we went to a hotel in Temple Bar for a team briefing so we got updates on the travel details etc. Swimming will be the first of three different groups to fly out and we’re leaving for Uberlandia, for our holding camp, on August 23. That’s not much more than a month away now which is hard to believe. The team launch happened just a few days after the ‘More Than Sport’ fundraising ball which was amazing.
I’ve been to Paralympic events before but was really surprised at the amount of support there and a bit overwhelmed really. Businesses had to pay for the tables and they weren’t cheap, so it was really encouraging to see how many there was and there was a live auction too. Each table had an athlete at it. I was at the RTE table who, with Allianz’ support are doing all the coverage of the Games. Joanne Cantwell from RTE was MC for the night and did a great job. Oliver Murphy, one of Ireland’s first ever Paralympians, was given an award. It’s mad to see how far things have progressed since then and it was really nice to see him recognised like that. Paralympics Ireland is now trying to track down every Irish Paralympian from the past through social media, which is another great idea.
But, naturally, most of the last month has been the same as usual – training away! The National Championships are coming up which will be our last race practice before Rio. Our club are going to Fuerteventura on August 3 for a final block of hard work and then, when we come home, it’s all about sharpening up and resting. That’s what I call ‘the fun!’
Training-wise swimming can be quite tedious – especially the long sessions. I swim roughly 6km a-session and, in Fuerteventura, we’ll train twice a-day so that’s 12km! That’s a lot of lengths and it’s kinda how I became a ‘medley’ swimmer, because I find freestyle boring. You’re usually given a choice - to do freestyle or medley sets - and I always chose medley sets because, honestly, I wouldn’t have the attention span to do freestyle!
Tomorrow I also have a ‘step test’, kind of like the ‘bleep test’ for runners, which measures our fitness. You do 7x200m with roughly two minutes rest in between. Each 200m has to be five seconds faster so, by the end of it, you’re going pretty fast. Generally I’m not a distance person at all, I hate it, but it has to be done until we get to the fun part, which is doing starts and fast 15m and 25ms. I love all the fast stuff and we’ll be doing a lot of that in the days and weeks leading into Rio.
Ellen Keane (21), from Clontarf, is already a two-time Paralympian and a three-time world medallist in swimming, an all-rounder whose best events are 100m breaststroke, 200m individual medley (IM) and 100m butterfly. She made a Paralympic final, in Beijing 2008, when she was only 13 and reached two finals in the 2012 Paralympics. She won two bronze medals at the 2013 IPC World Championships and another last year.
She combines training, six days a-week at the National Aquatic Centre (NAC) in Abbotstown, with studying ‘culinary entrepreneurship’ at DIT. She reached finals in five of her six events at the 2016 European Championships in May.