Double World and European Rowing Champion Sanita Pušpure has been given a timely boost as she prepares for the delayed Olympics in Tokyo by being chosen as Cork Person of the Year for 2020.
Ms Pušpure (39), who won the Women's Single Sculls World Championship in Plovdiv in Bulgaria in 2018 and successfully defended her title in Ottensheim in Austria in 2019, admitted she was surprised by the honour.
"Just home from training to find this news! Quite surprised and thank you!!" she tweeted after returning to her home in Ballincollig after a training session at Farran Wood to discover she had been chosen as Cork Person of the Year.
Ms Pušpure competed for her native Latvia as a junior but gave up the sport after she married her husband, Kaspar. After moving to Ireland, a wrong turn while visiting the zoo with their son Patrick, and while expecting their daughter Daneila, led to a return to the sport.
"Instead of going to Dublin Zoo, we missed the turn and went to Islandbridge, and we saw all the rowers in the boats, and I instantly decided I'm going back. If I hadn't taken that wrong turn to the zoo, I wouldn't be here.
“That led me back to the sport in Ireland and I’m ever grateful for that opportunity to achieve what I have,” she told The Irish Times in 2019 after winning The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year Award.
She made her debut for Ireland in 2010 following a six-year break from international competition and although she eventually came 16th at the Lucerne World Cup, she quickly began to improve and move up the rankings.
She reached the London Olympics in 2012 but finished 13th, while the 2016 Rio Olympics proved difficult when unusually bumpy water on the Lagoa caused problems and led to some very uncharacteristic times for most competitors.
In the end she finished fourth in her heat but did not make the final, and even though she won the C-final, it was scarce consolation, so now she is looking ahead to Tokyo and the chance to make amends.
“I will be racing the same girls I’ve raced for years and I know them all. It’s exciting, a bit scary, because I have been waiting to make amends at the Olympics since Rio,” said Ms Pušpure, who became an Irish citizen in 2011.
Resident in Ballincollig after moving to Cork to be close to the National Rowing Centre at Farran Wood near Ovens, Ms Pušpure was voted Cork Person of the Month for March before going on to scoop the Cork Person of the Year Award.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin recalled how as Lord Mayor of Cork, he was delighted to launch the Cork Person of the Year award scheme with Manus O’Callaghan in 1993 before congratulating Ms Pušpure.
Epitomise all that is good
“The nominees and indeed the winners of this award over the years are people who epitomise all that is good and cherished in our communities... the Cork Person of the Year Award allows us to recognise them appropriately.
“In particular I wish to congratulate the 2020 winner – World & European rowing champion Sanita Pušpure. Sanita’s sporting accomplishments are a mark of her talent, determination and dedication to her sport.
“She is an inspiration to the many young people within her own sport of rowing and beyond. She is a worthy winner of this award and I wish her continued success.”
Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Joe Kavanagh and Mayor of Cork County Cllr Mary Linehan Foley also sent their congratulations and wished Ms Pušpure every success in the year ahead as she continues with her preparations for Toyko.
Ms Pušpure joins a list of notable Cork sports people who have previously won Cork Person of the Year, including GAA dual star Jimmy Barry Murphy, world champion athlete Sonia O'Sullivan and soccer player Roy Keane.
Fellow rowers Gary and Paul O'Donovan won the award in 2018, and other winners include historian Prof John A Murphy, children's rights campaigner Louise O'Keeffe and Chernobyl Children's Project founder Adi Roche.
Last year, Cervical smear test campaigner Stephen Teap won Cork Person of the Year for 2019 and dedicated the award to his late wife, Irene Teap, and all the other women and families affected by the cervical smear debacle.
Awards founder and organiser Manus O’Callaghan explained the award is usually announced at a Cork Person of the Year gala lunch, which had to be cancelled this year due to Covid-19.