Family of Ireland’s new Paralympian champion celebrates in style

Ellen Keane’s gold medal makes the many 4.15am training starts all worthwhile

Eddie and Laura Keane, with their children, Graham, Hazel and Philip, celebrate at their home after their daughter Ellen Keane, won Ireland’s first medal of the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Photograph: Damien Eagers

Eddie and Laura Keane, with their children, Graham, Hazel and Philip, celebrate at their home after their daughter Ellen Keane, won Ireland’s first medal of the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Photograph: Damien Eagers

 

Behind every successful athlete there is a parent or parents who get up at all hours, sacrifice evenings and weekends and feel every triumph and failure as if it was their own.

Eddie and Laura Keane conspicuously wear their pride for their Paralympian champion daughter Ellen (26) on their sleeves and everywhere else too. In 2015 Eddie had a green suit replete with shamrock patterns made in support of his daughter’s exploits in the swimming pool. Laura followed suit some time afterwards. They stood out when they intended their daughter’s swimming meets just as they intended to do.

The pair were exhausted but happy and holding court in the front lawn of their house in Dollymount Grove, Clontarf only an hour after their daughter won gold in the pool in Tokyo. Ellen smashed her own personal best set in the heat to win the SB8 100 metres breaststroke final, Ireland’s first gold medal of the Paralympic Games. Ellen won bronze at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic games in 2016.

Laura never went to went to bed. “Unlikely Kellie Harrington’s mother, I have to watch. It was nerve racking,” she says.

Eddie got up at 2.30am to watch the heats. The Keanes cheered so loud at the television and the dogs started barking that they would have woken the street had most of her neighbours not been up anyway to watch Ellen.

The whole street is festooned with tricolour bunting and posters wishing Ellen good luck and St Gabriel’s Parish Church at the bottom of Dollymount Grove has a banner out front wishing her well.

Even Ellen’s beloved sausage dog, appropriately called Denny, was dressed up with a tricolour collar. She spend her spare day a week when she is not training or working with Denny.

Six mornings a week

Eddie recalled getting up at 4.15am six mornings a week to drive Ellen to the Aer Lingus Social and Athletic Association (ALSAA) near Dublin Airport to start training at 4.45am. Then there was the two years that she spent as a teenager in boarding school in England, her first Paralympics in Beijing as a 12-year-old and the year’s wait for the 2020 Paralympic Games.

“All those quarter past four mornings in the early days, they have all paid off for that gold medal and you could see it in her face, that big smile,” said Eddie.

“We are emotionally drained. It’s been such a long road,” his wife replied. The year’s delay in the hosting of the games as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic served their daughter well, they both believe. It allowed her to fall back in love with the sport again.

Ellen was born the youngest of the couple’s four children in 1995 with an undeveloped left arm and competes as an amputee. Laura recalls that with four young children it was “busy, busy, busy” and they had neither the time nor the inclination to treat Ellen any different.

“She never played on her disability. She played hurling and she was a fantastic hip hop dancer, she did a culinary degree. Nothing fazes Ellen. She was always strong willed and a happy child growing up,” her mother says.

Ellen’s older sister Hazel said that while the rest of the family were jumping around in ecstasy after she won gold, she was quietly sobbing in the corner with joy.

“We knew deep in her hearts she would get gold. Just to see her swim was amazing. She went boom straight to the finish to get the gold. I am so proud of her. I was in balls of tears at the screen,” she said.

“I can’t curl my hair for the life of me and she will come in and do my hair with one hand. She is an inspiration, she really is.”