Irish Paralympians reflect on their experiences in Rio

Newstalk.com speaks to some of competitors who represented Ireland at the Games in Rio this summer

BY Daniel Kelly 13:20 Wednesday 28 December 2016, 13:20 28 Dec 2016

Picture by Adam Davy PA Wire/PA Images

Ireland enjoyed one of their greatest ever Paralympic campaigns this year in Rio, when people from all corners of the island came together to represent the country.

Ireland's sailors, swimmers, runners and throwers, their footballers, cyclists, canoeists and so many more all performed to do the Emerald Isle proud on the Paralympic stage, winning 11 medals.

We caught up with a small handful of those who flew the flag for Ireland, what it meant to them to perform at the Games and what 2017 has in store for them.

1) Phil Eaglesham

How do you reflect on your year?

2016 has been the best year for me out of the last six. Six years ago getting the illness (Q fever), it’s shown be the end of the light through the trees. The end of the Paralympics, seeing my kids and how proud they were of me is something I will never forget.

How was your Paralympic experience?

It was completely surreal. I don’t think I have even come down from it. Things have been so busy, it feels like it was yesterday, but it seems so far away at the same time. Rio is something I’ll greatly remember. I’m already looking forward to Tokyo and being more with the family that is Paralympics Ireland.

Any regrets?

I don’t live in regrets, because you can never change what the past has been. It’s about building for the future. For me it’s about building what has happened in 2016, continuing to shoot with Paralympics Ireland and moving on with my own family.

What has 2017 in store for you?

It’s a quieter year than what the last year has been. There are a few World Cup events taking place. Unfortunately we’re not going to the first one due to funding. We will be pushing to go to others to compete. That’s the only way we will improve ahead of Tokyo. It’s quieter, but the training will still be the same.

2) Ellen Keane

How do you reflect on your year?

It wasn’t what I wanted, but I went to Rio for a bronze medal and I got one. I started the year really well. Come March, the thoughts of Rio hit me. I was really nervous and uptight. In my first event in Rio I messed up so badly but improved after it. To come home with a bronze medal and show it to everyone was great.

How was your Paralympic experience?

I wasn’t excited as much going to Rio [compared to Beijing and London] because of all the negative press beforehand. When I was there, the Brazilian people’s spirit was amazing. I’ve never heard crowd’s like it. The capacities in London and Beijing were bigger, but the crowds in Rio made it special. I don’t think I’ll experience anything like that ever again.

Any regrets?

Not relaxing as much as I should have. I think that’s what I’m going to learn going forward. I need to trust myself If something doesn’t go to plan, it’s going to be ok.

What has 2017 in store for you?

It’s really about getting back into training. There’s going to be a Paralympics World Series starting in March. Five events will take place in five cities. The more events you go to, the more points you get. There will be cash rewards, and that’s never happened in Paralympic sport before. It’s going to be exciting.

3) Pat O’Leary

How do you reflect on your year?

It was an amazing year. I went in with the intention of qualifying for Rio, in May. For me to qualify, was an amazing achievement. I was building up to it for four years. I did two PBs in that competition. To get the buzz that was in Rio, was just brilliant. The whole experience was fabulous. The fact my family travelled to Rio was a real highlight.

How was your Paralympic experience?

It was quite bizarre for me and my competitors, as there were only 60 competitors there. The scale of it was enormous. Paralympics Ireland did a great job hiding the stresses from us. The athletes were well insulated. It was very positive. I had some down days, and saw Eoghan Clifford and Michael McKillop win medals. You don’t get those experiences at regular canoe events.

Any regrets?

None at all. I lined up in the Paralympic final in the best shape I’ve ever been and it was the best race I’ve ever raced. To say in the two biggest races I’ve ever done, my qualification in the Worlds and the Paralympic final are the two best races I’ve ever raced, I can’t really have any regrets.

What has 2017 in store for you?

We have a European and World Championships every year. After a Paralympic Games, those Championships slightly run later, in July and August. I’ll have a World Cup in May too which will be low stress. I’ve been tipping away over the last few months. The hard grind starts over Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing how the body copes with it.

4) Greta Streimikyte

How do you reflect on your year?

It was a big year. It’s the year I became a Paralympian and I competed in the European Championships. The highlight was being selected for the Paralympics in Rio.

How was your Paralympic experience?

I had huge expectations of how good it would be, and it was amazing. I really enjoyed Rio. I thought the city was amazing. Competing in the Olympic Stadium cannot be put into words. The Brazilians were so supportive. It’s hard to describe the feeling of everyone watching you. When I made it to the final, I was nervous but everyone was so supportive. The stadium was so loud, it was hard to concentrate on the start line.

Any regrets?

As an athlete, you always want to do your best. I achieved everything that I wanted. I got to compete in a European Championships and Paralympic Games and got a new PB in 2016. I dont have any regrets.

What has 2017 in store for you?

My target is to make the team in the World Championships in London. I need to keep training and make sure there’s no injuries. I didn’t get to compete in London in 2012. Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth have told me how amazing London is going to be. The crowds will be so supportive. I’d be so happy to make the team.

5) James Scully

How do you reflect on your year?

It was a year of mixed emotions. The supports I had helped me push through the year. Getting to Rio was a huge achievement. In Rio, every target I went to achieve, I completed and I smashed them. It was a massive high, and it justified all the work I did in the pool throughout the year.

How was your Paralympic experience?

Compared to London, a lot of my family were not able to travel. I matured a lot from competing in 2012 to what happened in Brazil. Rio will hold an important place in my heart. All my personal bests happened there. One of my rivals Daniel Dias is a Brazilian hero. He brought huge crowds. I just pretended 10,000 screaming Brazilian fans were screaming for me. The Paralympics is a special experience for any athlete.

Any regrets?

What’s done is done. It’s hard to have any regrets. I’m happy with how the year went. I achieved all my goals that I had at the start of the year.

What has 2017 in store for you?

The focus is on recovery. The year after the Games can be a transitional one. Normally I take three weeks off after a season. This year I took six or seven. Looking into the future my main focus is on the European Championships in Dublin in 2018. Hopefully we will be able to fill out the National Aquatics Centre.

**

You can read the views of some of Ireland's Olympic athletes here, as they look back on 2016. 

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