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From late bloomer to the world stage, Ireland's Lithuanian-born flyer on track for Tokyo

Greta Streimikyte on her meteoric rise, how much representing Ireland means to her and what’s yet to come.

GRETA STREIMIKYTE PAUSES for a few seconds when she’s asked to reflect on her career so far.

_66A3368 Greta Streimikyte launching Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. Source: Simon Burch 00353872754849 Ireland

The Lithuanian-born, proud Irish Paralympian, has been on a whirlwind upward trajectory. Her rise has been meteoric, to say the least.

Having only started athletics in her late teens, Streimikyte bagged a 1500m bronze medal on her international debut at the 2016 European Para Athletics Championships. Those stunning exploits sealed her ticket to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, where she finished in fourth place overall. 

And in 2018, Streimikyte struck gold at the European Championships in Berlin.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, never mind the numerous PBs, national records and lifetime bests. The glittering list of achievements in such a short space of time — with plenty more to come, no doubt — is put to her.

“I’ve never thought about it,” the 25-year-old admits. “Maybe it’s me being an athlete or just being Greta, I’m never happy… I’m rarely happy.

“Well, I’m happy with my performance but there’s always more from me. There’s always more. I wouldn’t consider myself a successful athlete yet. I feel like I’m getting there but there’s still so much to learn and there’s still so much to do.

I like that there is something to chase, I like that there is so much more sport to go and [time] to improve. There’s gold medals, records or PBs to constantly chase. I definitely don’t feel like I am a successful athlete yet from my perspective, I feel like there is so much more to improve on. I hope that with every year I’ll become better and better at it.”

The natural follow-on question is what about the Paralympic Games this summer? With all of that in mind, what’s the aim for Tokyo?

Another pause, before she gathers her thoughts.

“When it comes to talking about medals, I don’t really like to speculate. As an athlete, we’re always thinking about the pile of gold medals.

“At the same time, I want to go out there and do as best as I can and have no regrets. You leave everything on the track and what happens, happens.

“No regrets for me, and if that means bringing a medal, that would be great, but if that means me running a personal best and leaving everything on the track and knowing that I did everything I could, that is rewarding as well. I think that’s the most important thing.”

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Visually impaired since being placed in an incubator shortly after a premature birth, Streimikyte and her family moved to Ireland when she was 15.

Her undying love for athletics soon blossomed.

“I was quite late finding the sport, it must have been 16,” she explains. “We were always active as a family and all that kind of stuff, but I never really thought about athletics.”

It was her PE teacher who planted the seed.

She recalled the conversation as if it were yesterday:

Greta, there’s this community race in Santry, would you like to represent the school?

“I said ‘yes, I’m gonna give it a go’ and it was an 800m race. Then I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ but also, ‘you have to give it a go! You’re representing the school!’ I always liked to be involved in school activities as much as I could. I gave it a lash, as they say, and I came second.”

A few days later, the same PE teacher returned with a question that would ultimately change her life. And all for the better.

Greta, would you be interested in Paralympic sport? Paralympic games?

She recalls: “That’s where I had to learn about the sport, that’s where I had to, you know, gain the knowledge – what it’s all about, can I actually be good at it?

“From that on, I just started to train and learn and take in information about sport, about athletics – because there’s so much that I didn’t know. There’s still so much I don’t know at the moment.”

Always learning, always improving; Streimikyte has found the last year hugely beneficial as she bides her time for Tokyo. While the postponement was a little disappointing, it was “a blessing in disguise”.

greta Streimikyte is eying further success in Tokyo. Source: SPORTSFILE.

She’s reaping the rewards physically of the extra 12 months’ training under her belt, feeling much stronger than last year.

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“We become better athletes by training more,” she stresses. “We are all talented and all of that but at the end of the day, the fruits of our training, we get them by training more and more and that’s the final goal that we see at the races.

“For me, I thought it was great, I could explore and do more mileage which I’ve never done before and that for me was very, very useful as an athlete.

I’ve taken every opportunity I can to train and when the opportunity presents itself to compete, you go and compete.

She did just that at Athletics Ireland’s Micro Meet two weeks ago, going toe-to-toe with some of the best 1500m runners in the country as she got her racing rhythm back.

“I remember as I crossed the finish line, my first thought was, ‘I need more races!’ she smiles, conceding that that lack of racing over the past year or so has been difficult at times.

Facing into another hiatus now until May or June, Streimikyte can’t wait to get back to it as Tokyo preparations ramp up, and she gets the opportunity to wear her beloved green singlet on the world’s biggest stage once again.

The fact that she became an Irish citizen to represent her adopted home at the Paralympics — receiving her passport in 2015 — says it all, and the Clonliffe Harriers star has spoken at length in the past about how much running for Ireland means to her.

Hearing the anthem on the podium, it’s something special. She can’t wait for that feeling once again. The sooner the better.

“Winning a gold medal you kind of think that that’s the material thing of winning the medal,” she concludes. “That’s, for me personally – yes, it is, because it represents that you came first, but that’s not it, that’s not the feeling that you get standing there.

It is the national anthem playing and that is…it’s just something else! Because you know the reason why the national anthem is playing and the flag is raised – it’s because…you’re kind of like…I can’t even describe it.

“Incredible euphoria, incredible feeling, which I suppose when I experienced that, that’s why I’d want to win. That’s one of the combinations as well, it’s not just because it’s coming first. It’s not the same as winning silver, it’s not the same as winning bronze, it’s just something else that you will only experience if you win gold medals, like now I know why! 

“It is something else and something incredible that I really hope to experience more in the future.”

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Irish Paralympic athlete, Greta Streimikyte, was speaking following the announcement of Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. You can get behind the team now at: https://paralympics.ie/

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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