Sligo swimmer is hoping to make a big splash in Europe
Mona McSharry is focused on training, but the teenager also leads a normal life
Mona McSharry: “You can’t rush breaststroke, you have to wait for the glide. You just have to go slow to swim fast.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
It has been a hectic week for Mona McSharry. She was a bit behind with her Junior Cert art project which has to be submitted tomorrow so had to knuckle down to finish it.
Most teenagers would have had some spare time last weekend to add the finer touches but she was a bit busy elsewhere. In the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin to be exact, winning five national senior swimming titles at the Irish Open Championships, three of them on Sunday alone.
McSharry crams a lot in these days. “I have the European Seniors in London in two weeks, the Junior Cert starts on June 8th, and 10 days after it finishes I’m flying out for the European Juniors, it’s pretty busy,” says the 15-year-old breaststroke specialist.
McSharry has repeatedly broken Irish junior records, including Gráinne Murphy’s at 200m breaststroke and lowered her own twice last weekend.
What sets her apart, as well as her talent, is her location.
Competitive swimming tends to be dominated by “townies” as pools survive best, financially, in large urban centres. Yet McSharry is a country kid; a big fish from a small pond. Her club, Marlins in Ballyshannon Leisure Centre, is only 20 years old but on the rise thanks to coaches Sinéad Donagher, Grace Meade and Conall McGourty and a strong structure.
There are still fewer than 10 in their elite training squad and McSharry is the star, a natural-born water-baby.
“I still swim in the sea, I love it,” McSharry says. “We can walk to the beach from my house and every summer I am down there doing water sports. My brother just got a wake-board, I like water-skiing and I’ve done a bit of sailing.”
You wonder how she fits it all in but elite swimmers plan their days like spreadsheets.
She chose Coláiste Cholmcille in Ballyshannon as it is only a short walk from the pool where she trains 11 hours a week, mostly before school.
“It’s not too bad. My mum drives me, it just takes 20 minutes. We get up between 5am and 5.30 and I’m in the pool between 6.30 and 8 and start school at 9.”
She also does one evening session and two more hours on Saturdays plus 2½ hours in the gym “but that’s also at the pool so we’ve a good set-up.”
Breakfast is often in her clubmate Róisín Maguire’s house but sometimes she just grabs some toast at school.
Her brother Mouric (“it’s Welsh for Maurice”), who is two years younger, is also a promising swimmer but it’s too early yet to see if little sister Luca (7) will also take to water.
But they’re all competitive. “My mum is very sporty and my dad used to be a competitive kick-boxer so I think I get it from both of them,” she says.
She excels, arguably, at swimming’s toughest stroke.
“It is very technical: you have to get the rhythm right and make sure you kick at the right time. You can’t rush breaststroke, you have to wait for the glide. You just have to go slow to swim fast,” McSharry says.
“At the moment I’m working on nailing my starts, turns and finishes. I’m kind of gliding into my finishes or taking a short stroke, which is losing seconds. You shouldn’t glide too much because you’re losing speed but I have been working on my pull-down underwater and it’s getting better. I’ve knocked four seconds off my 100m time which I’m really happy with and I’m hoping I won’t slow down, but I am conscious that a plateau could kick in.
“This is my first time to go to the European Juniors so my goal is to get into the finals and then, hopefully, a medal.”
Her favourite togs ever are a grey pair of compression “Carbon-Pros” which she can’t bear to part with even though they are now ripped.
“I still wear them every once in a while but my favourites at the moment are my Carbon-Airs because they are tight, well-fitted and my favourite colour, blue.”
Before competition she just pumps up her music and rehearses the race mentally.
“I didn’t do it before because I used to visualise the bad things but now I’m getting good at filtering them out.”
So, any tips for us amateur splashers, such as how do we stop our goggles slipping and flipping when we dive in?
“They have to be fully touching your skin, you can’t have the hat under them at all. If that’s happening you could put your goggles under your hat . . . or maybe you just need to buy yourself a better pair of goggles,” giggles the little Sligo fish set to make big ripples in the future.