‘Sport is a lonely place. Only the strongest survive really ‘· The42

A MISERABLE MONDAY morning, but both Kellie Harrington and Ellen Keane are in flying form.

Against the odds, for Keane anyway, who’s currently isolating, having tested positive for Covid-19 and had her World Championship preparations thrown into disarray.

She’ll smile on, though, as Harrington will, despite the tricky questions thrown her way amidst the ongoing Irish boxing controversy.

The Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists are on a host of media calls, after being announced as sports ambassadors for Dublin City Council. In back-to-back interviews, the cover plenty of ground. Separately. Their respective careers, their current situations and their exciting new roles.

Two proud Dubliners, delighted to give back. And of course, drive on.

At one point, Harrington is asked about Keane, and the unfortunate card she’s been dealt with Covid.

“God, I know,” she frowns. “I actually just messaged her yesterday. I know she’s meant to be going out to her camp tomorrow and then onto the to the World Championships.

“I just text her because I’ve been in that position and I’ve obviously had to pull out the Worlds. I said ‘Look, Ellen, I know it’s not easy and your head is probably going to be all over the place at the moment, but look, it’s next year that really counts. Next year is the big year. I’ve just been through all this myself, if you do need to talk, pick up the phone ring me and I’ll meet you for a cup of tea or a cup of coffee [after her isolation]. ‘

“I’ve been there.”

Harrington missed the recent World Championships in Istanbul, at which Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke both claimed gold, through injury.

Unwilling to clarify the nature of the setback, the 32-year-old labeled it “a little niggle,” though revealed she’s hoping to be back sparring by the start of July ahead of the European Championships in October.

“Just getting back slowly but surely, looking after my physical and mental health,” she notes.

It’s tough and unforgiving at the top level of sport, as both Harrington and Keane know all too well. Their friendship epitomizes the fraternity and fellowship amongst high performance athletes, and the importance of it.

“It’s all great when you’re winning and out there competing, everybody wants to know you, everybody wants a piece of a piece of the pie,” Harrington nods. “But then when you’re out of competition or when you lose, there’s only a handful of people who will reach out to you.

“I’ll tell you now, you remember those handful of people who reach out to you when you need them, quicker than you remember the people who were all they’re going,‘ Congratulations, ’when you’re winning.

“Normally, the people who do reach out is your family. There’s obviously been other people who have reached out as well, but it’s your family and other athletes who reach out. I do think the people who will reach out are the ones who have been there and who know what it’s like to be there because it is a lonely place.

“Sport is lonely. Only the strongest survive really. ”

Source: DublinCityCouncil / YouTube

Keane is the embodiment of that. Her journey to this point is well documented: from a self-conscious ‘girl with one arm’ to Paralympic champion after 13 years as a high performance athlete.

Paris 2023 will be her fifth Games, having debuted at Beijing 2008 as Ireland’s youngest Paralympian, aged just 13. Rio 2016 delivered a bronze medal, but she finished top of the podium in Tokyo in the same 100m breaststroke SB8 event.

Things are very different now.

“D’you know, it’s nearly easier coming back from a Games and not winning gold than it is coming back from the Games and winning gold,” she explains.

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“You come back from a Games and you’re so motivated, because you’re like,‘ I want to win a gold medal. How do I win a gold medal? ‘ And then when you win the gold medal, you come back and you’re like, ‘Okay, what do I do now?’

“You’ve done what you what you wanted to do, and what you’ve always said that you dreamed of doing, and when you come home, the low is a lot lower, I feel, than it has been in the past. It’s nearly like, ‘Do I stay, do I not stay?’

“The reason I chose to stay and I chose not to retire was because I know so many athletes who’ve retired and I know so many athletes whose bodies may have given up on them, they could have been injured, through no fault of their own they’re not able to continue on in sport, and I know how privileged I am to still be fit, to still be able to compete. And I know that I’m still capable of more.

“I guess that’s why I chose to do Dancing with the Stars because I was like,‘ I want to stay, but I just need a little bit of a break in my head from competing ’. Having that break really made me hungry to come back, and that’s what I was waiting for. I was looking for the hunger again.

“It is the end of the season and it’s a fresh start now come the 2022/2023 season and leading into Paris. I’m really excited. I’m enjoying this year and I’m gonna enjoy competing in Madeira but I’m really excited to be a top performer in the next cycle that follows. “

“What I’ve done in the past and in Tokyo, especially, that was 2021 Ellen. It’s 2022 now, and I need to see where I can get to for 2024, ”Keane adds.

Same applies for Kellie.

Two champions. Two proud Dubliners, ready to drive on. Together.



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