Ellen Keane on Winning a Medal in Rio

In the lead-in to Rio I was just so nervous and I think all that nervous energy and frustration was exhausting me. Even though I was tapered and ready to compete I was so tired all the time and so nervous. I think that showed in my 200m IM. But when it came to the breaststroke I wanted to win my heat and that’s what I did. That kind of relaxed me a bit more and set me up for the final.

I know the other two girls who medalled with me really well. I spent two years in boarding school in England and Claire (Cashmore, silver medallist) used to swim there. She wasn’t there when I was there but there’s a group of Paralympians who’ve all been to that school that I’d know. Kat (gold medallist Katarina Roxon from Canada) and I go back to Beijing together when we both started. I have always beaten Kat but, at Worlds last year, she beat me. I was so annoyed but when I saw the time she swam in the heat in Rio I was like ‘this is her final.’ I knew she was going to do something amazing.

When we were in the call-room for the podium someone asked if we wanted to do something funny for the photographers. I suggested we could put our stumps up together because we all have the same stump. It was picked as one of the best photos of the Games and I like it particularly because I’ve struggled so much with classification in recent years. I was sometimes swimming against people with two full arms and two legs but that photo shows we are all exactly the same and that we’re in the right classification.

Ellen on the podium with other medalists

I didn’t get to spend much time with my parents that night because I was swimming the next morning. I’d done what I wanted – won that medal – and I just wanted to continue. I wanted to PB in my butterfly and swim well in the backstroke too. I think I could have swum faster times but I was very tired and still got two PBs in the end. It was a successful Games but there was still a lot of learning, I know there’s a lot more in me but, in my third Paralympics, I kind of needed to win that medal. I’ve nothing to lose now in the future.

The athletes’ village was amazing. Every three apartment blocks had its own pool. When I’d finished swimming on the last day it was roasting, so myself, Nicole (Turner) and Ailbhe (Kelly) went straight to the pool and lay there eating McDonalds! Ireland shared our 18-floor apartment block with the Americans. We had four floors and they had the rest. Every bed has the same bed sheets with all the Paralympic sports logos on them and you get to bring them home with you afterwards.

When the competition was over the Irish Embassy organised a party in a local hotel, with our families, which was a nice celebration of everyone’s achievement as a team. Then I got to go back to the village and celebrated with my friends from competitions. I didn’t go out to any of the nightclubs or anything. You can go to a nightclub anywhere in the world but you only go to the Paralympic village once every four years!

After the closing ceremony there was an agreement between the Dutch, British, Canadians, Australians and Irish. We all got wristbands and could go into each other’s blocks for some pizza and a drink. We also got to go to ‘Christ the Redeemer’ one day too and that was really cool. We got a really clear day and myself and (James) Scully and our physio were convinced it was made by aliens because it’s so big! You don’t understand how that was made up there! That was as much of Rio as I saw, but I didn’t got there for a holiday and I don’t think I would have wanted to go sightseeing. I wanted to enjoy the Paralympics and the show that Rio was putting on and I didn’t want to get distracted from that.

What I’ll probably remember most from Rio are the friendships I formed. I’d known a lot of people before but, at this Games, I expanded my ‘friends-span.’ I made really good friends with a lot more Canadians and a lot of the Dutch team.

When I arrived back at Dublin airport I saw my parents at Arrivals and they were like ‘we’ve a surprise for you!’ They had a big flag up and dropped it and my boyfriend James (Hollis) was behind the flag! I wasn’t expecting him until the next day so that was lovely. College re-started two days before we got home but, before I go back to it, we’re off to a friend’s 21st in Mayo - a sort of surfing trip - followed by a week’s holidays in Gran Canaria where I’ll lie around the pool and do no swimming! I’ll probably still call into college before then to see everyone. My first term is back to normal classes but, in my second term, we have to do an internship, either here or abroad and I need to find somewhere to take me on for that. Basically I’ve now got to find myself a job!

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 final, in Beijing 2008, when she was only 13 and, this month, reached three Paralympic finals in Rio 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.


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