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It’s nearly two hours post-race and my hands are still shaking as I type this.
What a night for Ellen Keane, what a night for her family, friends, coaches, teammates… What a night for Clontarf, Dublin and Ireland in general.
There was a feeling that it could be a special day for Team Ireland when Roisin Ni Riain raced a personal best and qualified for the final. Twenty minutes later Ellen followed that up with a PB of her own. Word also filtered through that Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal ALSO raced a PB in the cycling before Ronan Grimes proceeded to do the same in the afternoon.
Personally, it was a relatively quiet day. I managed to slip away from the morning’s swimming session and have a couple of hours to myself to work and unwind in my hotel room. But it’s hard to stop your mind from racing. Especially when you know there is a medal chance for Ireland that evening.
Giving up on quiet time, I returned to the Aquatic Centre almost four hours before Róisín and Ellen’s races and there was already a nervous-slash-excited energy surrounding the small Irish contingent.
Irish para-swimming is enjoying a golden (pardon the pun) era at the moment and Róisín Ní Riain is their newest rising star. At just 16 years of age, in her first Paralympic Games, she has already made two finals in the opening two days. Speaking to her afterward left me with no doubt that the future of para-swimming in Ireland is in very safe hands.
I’ve repeatedly mentioned being more of an Irish fan over here than a journalist and never was that more true than when Ellen stepped toward the pool. It went in stages. First, I tried to maintain composure, slightly leaning forward while gently clapping when her name was called. Then when she dove in, I cautiously shouted “C’mon Ellen!”. But by the halfway mark when she took a half-a-length lead over New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe, I was roaring, and when she touched the finish line and the gold medal was confirmed, I was on my feet and in real danger of losing my voice. Anyone who has ever sat near me at a hurling match can imagine what I was like.
I wrote yesterday of my dream to hear the anthem while the Irish flag is being raised at a Games. But my god, was it better than I ever imagined. It was so emotional being there but it all went by in a blur. You didn’t want the moment to end. Kudos to Ellen’s teammates, coaches and members of Paralympics Ireland who made incredible noise throughout the stadium until the very end.
Ellen Keane was the calmest Irish person in the Aquatic Centre today. She methodically moved through the media interviews before coming to me and when we told her we had pictures from home her only query was about her dog, Denny.
The Clontarf woman is not just a superb athlete and a terrific ambassador for people with disabilities but she’s also just a genuinely nice friendly person. Which is no surprise to anyone who has ever met her parents. Ellen immediately greeted me before casually passing over her medal for me to hold, a moment so surreal, if I didn’t take a picture, I’m not sure I would believe it happened.
This is so surreal…
— Marisa Kennedy (@MarisaK96) August 26, 2021
And then she proceeded to give a fantastic interview in which she mentioned her coaches, family and her boyfriend, all who have played a vital role in getting Ellen to where she is today. She has been on a Paralympic journey since she was 13 years of age and today she has finally reached the summit.
So there you have it, Ireland has a new Paralympic champion. I could go on and on about tonight’s events but I’m going to stop myself. Tomorrow is a new day and no doubt Team Ireland will give their all, inspired by their latest hero.