Ellen Keane: Why you need to attend this summer’s Para Swimming European Championships

Europe’s finest para athletes will be battling it out in the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin this August

Ellen Keane: “I want to win a gold medal for my country, in my country.” Photograph: ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Ellen Keane: “I want to win a gold medal for my country, in my country.” Photograph: ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

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First off, I want to put my hand(s) up and say that, yes, I am completely biased while writing this piece. But it is important that I do, and it is important that you read this.

A new weekly column by writers with a disability.
A weekly column by writers with a disability.

This August, Europe’s finest para athletes will be battling it out in the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin to claim gold.

The event will take place between August 13th and 19th, and it’s going to be an experience like no other. The paralympic movement changed my life and this opportunity means it could change yours too – whether or not you are disabled, an athlete, or even interested in sport.

So here are the top five reasons to attend this summer’s Allianz Para Swimming European Championships.

1) It is the first of its kind for Ireland

Contrary to what some people think, Ireland has never hosted a paralympic event. It often gets confused with all the great work done by Special Olympics in 2003 and over the years, but paralympics is not Special Olympics.

Paralympic sports are high-performance sports for elite athletes who’ve trained and sacrificed their whole lives for the opportunity to compete and win world-class titles. We do all the same level of training as Olympians – just without functioning limbs/eyes/ or with a cognitive impairment.

So this is a big deal for us. This is our European Championship. And our country won this bid away from all the other European countries that wanted it.

Let’s embrace that!

2) It will change your perception of people with disabilities

People with disabilities can be stronger both mentally and physically than you. And unless you’re a swimmer yourself, who trains multiple times a week, we’re probably faster than you too (look up Ellen Keane vs Rob Kearney on YouTube if you don’t believe me). We do not compete for you to think we’re great, or to earn your respect. We compete because we are passionate and have drive. However, when you see what we can do, you will automatically think these things of us.

Also . . . it’s a swimming event. We will be wearing swimsuits. So for all those people out there who may be sad enough to think that disabled people can’t be attractive – just wait and see.

Ellen Keane competes in the women's 100m breaststroke - SB8 final during the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in September, 2016. Photograph: Al Tielemans for OIS/IOC via AFP
Ellen Keane competes in the women's 100m breaststroke - SB8 final during the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in September, 2016. Photograph: Al Tielemans for OIS/IOC via AFP

3) It will help grow paralympic sport in Ireland

Ireland’s current paralympic superstars won’t be around forever. This event is an opportunity for kids with disabilities to see athletes with similar impairments to themselves winning medals! This could be the beginning of the journey for them and why they begin training and setting goals. Disabled kids are allowed dream too, so help feed their imagination!

4) It will make you proud to be Irish

Ireland is on a roll right now in regards to creating equal opportunities for everyone. So is now the time to be creating equal opportunities and respect for every body? I think so. This competition is an opportunity to help normalise and educate people about disabilities. It’s time to stop thinking less and start thinking more about ways we can change things so that every body lives a happier life. Starting with supporting our athletes regardless of what their body looks like.

They’ll be wearing the Irish flag, isn’t that the most important thing?

5) You will make me VERY happy

This reason is a very selfish one, but definitely the most heartfelt one. I want to win a gold medal for my country, in my country. I’m training for it. Everyday I’m pushing myself. And it’s really f***ing hard. My body aches and my emotions can be all over the place, but I want to do this so badly for you. Not every athlete will get the opportunity to compete in a home championships like this one. My dream is to win in front of a home crowd. I’ll need you all there cheering me on.

And if I fall short of my dream I’ll need you all there to make it better.

So will you be there?

Will you show up?

Will you hopefully help me sing the national anthem and watch our flag go up?

Or will you cheer me on even if it’s not meant to be?

I hope so. I really do . . . because I’m doing all of this for you.

– The Irish team for the World Para Swimming – European Championships will be announced at the end of June. Tickets from paralympics.ie. Follow Sky scholarship scheme recipient Ellen Keane’s journey to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on Instagram & Twitter: @keane_ellen

PLATFORM SERIES part 2
1) Louise Bruton: The day I started using a wheelchair, a lifetime of self-inflicted pressure lifted
2) Aisling Glynn: There are 847 more accessible taxis in Dublin than west Clare - I just need one
3) Rosaleen McDonagh: Perniciousness of racism and ableism in Ireland still continues
4) Ferdia MacAonghusa: Society thinks disabled people are not humans with rights but problems to be solved
5) Bobbie Hickey: Not getting the points I wanted led to the best year of my life
6) John Cradden: To forge an identity in a hearing world you become ‘Deaf’ rather than ‘deaf’
7) Alicia McGivern: Let’s make a reel difference when it comes to accessibility
8) Ellen Keane: Why you need to attend this summer’s Para Swimming European Championships

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