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Dublin: 13°C Monday 17 May 2021
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'My family did a drive-by and my Dad rolled down the window to blare out Happy Birthday'

Ellen Keane is adjusting to life without the Paralympics to look forward to in 2020.

IRISH PARAMYPIC SWIMMER Ellen Keane has never been out of the water for longer than three weeks.

Ellen 2 Irish Paralympic athlete Ellen Keane. Source: TOMMY MCDERMOTT

In ordinary time, she’s training in the water for up to four hours per day. On the day we speak, she’s only a few minutes into a group call with some Irish journalists before dropping the unsurprising admission that “my whole life is swimming.”

A bronze medalist in the 100m breaststroke at the Rio Games in 2016, Keane is supposed to be reaching her fourth Paralympics in Tokyo this year.

But these are far from ordinary times. Her last dip in the water was around St Patrick’s Day, and already, she’s closing in on that record for the length of time she’s been out of the pool.

“I have a lot of energy and I’m hyper all the time,” says Keane, who made her Paralympics debut at the Beijing Games in 2008 when she was just 13. That makes her Ireland’s youngest-ever Paralympian.

Even when I’m doing a little bit of exercise, I’m like really excited to do it. My coach wants me to do low [intensity] stuff to protect our immune system so basically, if you get sick, you’re not able to see a doctor right now.”

Without the water, Keane’s new exercise regime consists of cycling, some strength and conditioning sessions and attending virtual yoga classes. 

Her diet has been reviewed as well to account for the low intensity programme. 

I also discovered [the video app] TikTok so even today, I was like ‘oh I’m gonna make a TikTok,’” she laughs, referring to other ways she’s keeping herself stimulated in the coronavirus lockdown.

“I’m a Sky Sports scholar and with that, I’ve a few assignments and because I have so much energy, I’ve been finding it hard to focus. So I downloaded the ‘Calm’ app and I have focus music so I’ve been using that to try and focus myself a little bit.

ellen-keane-with-her-father-eddie Keane with her father Eddie after coming home from the Rio Paralympics with a bronze medal. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“My virtual yoga is really good, I have a private one with my yoga teacher anyway so doing that through Zoom is a bit weird.”

Postponing the Tokyo Paralympics to 2021 is unfortunate for Keane who was surely targeting a podium finish again, but she wasn’t surprised when the announcement was made.

Her qualification for the Games is already banked, and she is confident that will still stand when the Paramlypics come into view next year.

In truth, Keane wanted the organisers to abandon plans for a 2020 Paralympics. The wait for confirmation was agony.

“Even though we were still able to swim,” she begins, “there was still that stress and pressure about what was happening throughout the rest of the world and the pandemic that was really beginning.

I wasn’t able to train properly because there was so much emotional stress that I felt. As soon as the Games got postponed, there was that relief and the pressure was off.

“We could deal with the crisis in a human way and not have to worry about going out everyday training and putting ourselves or our family and friends in jeopardy by interacting with other people.”

It was Keane’s 25th birthday recently, and it’s one she won’t forget. Initially, she was hopeful that she would get to celebrate the occasion with her friends without violating the social distancing rules.

She wanted to have a garden party with two metre spaces between her guests. But she couldn’t take the risk.

Her housemate recently returned from Manchester, and though she didn’t have any Covid-19 symptoms, the pair decided to self-isolate for two weeks as a precaution. They’re both still well but the level of risk involved left no room for birthday parties.

However, Keane’s family refused to let the day pass without marking it in some way.

“My family did like a drive-by and my Dad rolled down the window of the car and had ‘Happy Birthday’ blaring out which was very embarrassing for me and my neighbours.

“I didn’t know it was coming. I was so embarrassed, I wanted it to stop it was awful,” she laughs.

Additionally, Keane raised some much-needed funds in aid of the Beaumont Hospital Foundation. She set-up a donations page on justgiving.com as part of her efforts, and raised €591.

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“I just wanted to do something to feel like I made an impact. That’s why I decided to do the charity thing. I was supposed to be going away to Monart for a weekend with my boyfriend and instead, I just donated the money I was going to spend.

“I just want to say thank you to all the people who did donate because I think I raised nearly €600 so I’m glad I was able to do something like that.”

Keane’s wait to get back in the water is not coming to an end any time soon. The three-week record will be a distant second to whatever number represents the length of her wait post-coronavirus.

Her cycling sessions, S&C, and yoga classes via Zoom will have to suffice for now.

It’s no substitution for the ripples of the water, but there’s a lot of positivity and optimism radiating down the phone from the patient Dubliner.

“I think with the Games being postponed now, it gives you that bit more appreciation for the sport that you do and knowing that you have another year to prepare and get yourself in the best shape of your life to perform in front of the world

“The slogan for the Tokyo Games is ‘united by emotion’ and I think that’s exactly what everyone is experiencing at the moment so it’s going to be a big celebration of what the human body and human body can endure next year.”

Ellen Keane is a Toyota ambassador and a World & European Medallist Paralympian swimmer.  Toyota is an official partner to Paralympics Ireland.

Keane will feature in the “Start Your Impossible” campaign ahead of the Tokyo Games in 2021. Visit www.Toyota.ie for more information

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