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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 24 February, 2020
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'Since the Paralympics I’m getting to enjoy the things I didn’t get to do when I was training'

It’s onwards and upwards after Rio, but I’m going to enjoy myself first before resuming heavy training, writes medallist Ellen Keane.

Ellen Keane.
Ellen Keane.

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.

Ellen is an Allianz sports and brand ambassador and has been writing a monthly blog throughout the build-up and aftermath of the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Allianz is an official partner to Paralympics Ireland and global partner to the International Paralympics Committee (IPC).

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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 was brilliant.

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 he agreed straight away.

Since coming back I’ve been to the Áras 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 Áras 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.

This year has been a whirlwind, such a roller-coaster ride.

It was everything I thought it would be but things also happened that you couldn’t predict. I wanted it to be the perfect season but that’s never going to happen.

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 had been on it with me.

There was a reception for myself and Olympic marathon runner Mick Clohisey in Clontarf Rugby Club and it was great to see everyone’s reaction.

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 had 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 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.

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’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’ve just received a nomination for the Tatler Women of the Year awards in two weeks’ time.

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, 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 and instead discovering 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.

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26.2 miles later: ‘You started something, played the long game and you finished it. Job done.’

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About the author:

Ellen Keane

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