The Changemakers: Ellen Keane on physical struggles and mental rollercoasters

In the June issue of IMAGE magazine, Orla Neligan talked to the Irish women who are making a big impact in their respective fields.

Ellen Keane

Elite athlete and Paralympian swimmer

While most of us were perfecting our break-dancing moves or wondering what we’d grow up to be, Ellen Keane was competing for Ireland at the Beijing Paralympics at the tender age of 13. “I was just a pretty miserable girl who decided to change her life.”

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As a child, Ellen was acutely aware of her “missing arm”. Physically, she never struggled – there was always “another way of doing things”; but mentally, it was a rollercoaster.

What would surprise us about you?

“I used to be a trophy-winning hip hop dancer and can still do the worm!”

“Swimming gave me the courage to want to change how I felt about my body, and the platform to help normalise the stigma surrounding ‘disabilities’. Now I just want to be the person I needed as a kid because other people need that too.”

Keane possesses the kind of mettle only an elite athlete with a disability could. She has experienced more highs than lows, but admits to being hard on herself; she won a medal at Rio, but it wasn’t her “best time”. Her motivation is knowing she could always do better, but she has also learnt to forgive herself when things don’t go to plan.

How do you challenge preconceptions?

“I always ask people why they think that. I’ve no problem making people feel uncomfortable.”

“I often stop and remind myself of how far I’ve come. Sport is a rollercoaster of emotions, and the fact that I’m still here working away after all the ups and downs means I’ve come a long way.”

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Pick up this month's edition of IMAGE magazine to see the article in full.

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