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'People assume females are the ones with body image problems. Guys go through the same thing'

Ellen Keane featured in an interesting discussion about the issue last month.

Irish Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane.
Irish Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane.
Image: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Updated Feb 3rd 2021, 8:05 PM

IRISH PARA-ATHLETE ELLEN Keane says she was delighted to get positive feedback from the public following her participation in a recent discussion about issues concerning body image.

Keane stresses that it was “an important conversation to have”, and insists that distorted feelings around body image affect males and females equally.

Fellow Irish athletes Ciara Mageean and Annalise Murphy were also involved in the discussion which took place on the Off The Ball’s Nollaig na mBan segment last month. They were also joined by Dutch athlete Jip Vastenburg.

Vastenburg spoke candidly about her own experience with disordered eating, which included not menstruating for almost eight years, as well as problems around her eating habits.

Olympic silver medallist Murphy also made a valuable contribution to the discussion, recalling incidents when coaches made remarks about her weight in the context of her sport.

One particular coach advised her to “lose weight or quit, there’s no point in you sailing at this weight”. They also suggested introducing a “diet competition”.

Keane says she was glad about her involvement in the conversation which she hopes can offer advise to others who might be struggling with similar problems.

“Annalise’s story, in particular, I didn’t know that she went through that as an athlete,” Keane begins.

“I think it was just so important for us to have this conversation, especially for parents listening in who might notice these things about their kids.

“I don’t want to put it down to just females because it’s not. I think people assume that females are the ones who have the body image [problems] or who think negatively of themselves, or are bullied because they go through certain things

“But they’re not; guys go through the exactly the same thing. Everyone does.

“So it was a really important conversation to have and we got some really good feedback. Even from themselves, they said they’d never had such a good response from our interviews before. It was really, really nice to hear that people were glad that we had that conversation.”

Source: Off The Ball/YouTube

Swimming pools are closed to the public at the moment due to the Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions. However, Keane and other elite athletes are still permitted to continue their training at the Sport Ireland campus in Abbotstown.

Keane is in the water most days during the specific slot times that have been allotted to her. She sympathises with those who can’t get to a pool at the moment, and appreciates the “privileged position” she is in.

But there are some upsides that come with training in an empty pool, including having an entire lane to herself.

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“We’re able to focus more on our own specific goals whereas, if the pool is crowded, if we’re all in at the same time, it’s a bit harder to be a bit more specific. We’re just trying to take advantage of the opportunity we’ve been given.” 

Talks around the likelihood of the Olympics and Paralympics suggest that the events will go ahead this year. And with her place at the Games already secured through her permanent classification, Keane is tapping into the mentality that “the next time I’ll be on a plane, I’ll be on my way to Tokyo. I’m not going to be able to compete before that”.

While that is a positive for Keane, it’s the reporting around the Games that is frustrating her. She recently published a tweet about how the Paralympics is often neglected by the media, when they should be considered in the same breath.

Elaborating on her feelings about this, Keane says:

“The Olympics doesn’t happen without the Paralympics, the Olympics has never happened without the Paralympics following after, since the Paralympics began.

“And the fact that the people responsible for reporting on sport seem to love to exclude Paralympics is really frustrating and it takes away from all the hard work that Paralympians do.

“Paralympians do exactly the same as Olympians – we wait four years, every four years our one opportunity comes around. We train day in, day out, we work just as hard.

“It’s often put into the same category as Special Olympics – but the Special Olympics and the Paralympics are two different things. The Paralympics isn’t about participating, it’s about competing and, as good, as great as the Special Olympics is, it’s about participation, whereas Paralympics is about trying to do everything you possibly can to take that gold medal and break that world record and…when it’s excluded, it’s just so frustrating for me.

“There’s too many people in the media who love to exclude it and it really, really annoys me. [I have my eye]? on every one of you!”

Allianz Paralympic ambassador Ellen Keane was speaking at the announcement of Allianz’ eight-year worldwide partnership with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements.

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First published today at 17.20

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