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Image / Self / Real-life Stories

Women in Sport: World Champion Irish Para Rower Katie O’Brien


By Katie O Brien
25th Sep 2022
Women in Sport: World Champion Irish Para Rower Katie O’Brien

In this instalment of our Women in Sport series, we hear from Irish Rower Katie O'Brien on feeling comfortable in your own skin, and her aspirations to win gold at the 2024 Paralympics.

From Clarinbridge in county Galway, 25-year-old Katie O’Brien has been making waves (both literally and figuratively) in the world of rowing since she first started out back in 2013.

Born with spina bifida and having undergone multiple surgeries on both her back and left leg, Katie walks with the aid of just a splint, and from the moment she watched the 2012 Paralympics, she knew she wanted to take part.

Since taking up rowing, Katie won the bronze medal at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz, finished in sixth place in the A Final in the World Rowing Cup in 2013, and won gold at the Henley Women’s Regatta and at the Home International Regatta. She also made history this year in forming Ireland’s first competitive para-rowing crew alongside Roscommon native Steven McGowan.

Just this week, Katie won gold in the final of the PR2 single sculls at the World Rowing Championships in the Czech Republic! Currently working as a qualified veterinarian, Katie O’Brien has her sights firmly set on winning a gold medal at the 2024 Paralympics.


Katie O'Brien

Name: Katie O’Brien

Profession: Vet

Earliest sporting memory?

Cúl Camps summer 2004

How did you become involved in your sport?

I went to a Paralympics sports day, where all of the available Paralympic sports had a stall. I went to look at horse riding, but ended up being asked back for rowing!

What message would you like to share with young women and girls interested in pursuing a career as an athlete?

To trust in themselves and their own potential, and believe that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to.

Proudest moment so far?

Winning the bronze medal at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz.

Katie O'Brien

The female athlete I admire most is…

Katie Taylor because she works so hard, achieves so much, and looks for nothing in return. She’s unbelievably modest and has really put women’s sport on the map. She has shown the world just how interesting women’s sport can be.

Favourite sporting memory…

Doing cross country (on ponies) with my sister and dad.

Do you think there is still a stigma around women in sport?

I would say not for a majority, but there’s definitely still people with the wrong attitude.

What is the biggest barrier to driving visibility in women’s sports?

Difficult question, but a big one is financial investment.

The biggest stigma/pre-conception that exists in women’s sport is…

Sports is sometimes seen as “manly” or “masculine”.

If I wasn’t an athlete I would be… A vet!

My favourite pre-competition meal is… Porridge

My pre-competition playlist includes…

The Rocky theme — ‘Gonna Fly Now’ by Bill Conti.

Katie O'Brien

My daily routine is…

Up, eat, train, shower, eat again, rest, train again, shower again, eat again, rest again, bed!

My biggest sporting goal is…

Gold medal at the Paralympics.

Sports brands I love (Irish or otherwise)…

Queen B Athletics of course — also Nike and Adidas!

Biggest splurge to celebrate a win… Pint(s) of Guinness.

How do you mind your mental health?

Rowing actually really keeps my head straight. When I’m taking time off, I start to not feel myself. Also, my siblings are my rocks — they keep me on the straight and narrow.

My three desert island beauty products are:

Easy! Brow pencil, mascara and bronzer.

I need 8 hours of sleep a night because… If I don’t, you won’t want to me near me! I can be cranky without sleep (or food).

Confidence to me is…

Feeling comfortable in your own skin, in front of anyone — from the president to your granny!

How do you get over a bad performance?

Analyse why it was a bad performance, make note of where I can improve, and put those areas into action. I try to forget about it as much as I can once I’ve made the notes!

Lastly, why is sport such an integral part of community, on a club, local, National and personal level?

Sport, for me, is a way where people from all walks of life, all shapes and sizes, ages, colour, abilities can come together and enjoy something that’s good for body, mind and so much more!

Imagery via Katie O’Brien