Friday 18 January 2019

Greta brings gold home

European champion para-athlete Greta Streimikyte talks to John Manning on her return home to swords from Berlin with her prized gold medal

Greta raises the Irish flag after her win in Berlin.
Greta raises the Irish flag after her win in Berlin.

Swords has welcomed home a European Champion as gold medal winner in the European Para-athletics Championships returned home to a warm welcome from family, friends and neighbours.

Greta Streimikyte began a gold rush for the Irish team at the European Championships in Berlin as the first to net gold for the team which eventually netted six gold medals in all.

Now she is back home in Holywell in Swords and reflecting on what she has achieved as well as looking forward to even bigger goals in her near future.

For now though, it's time to rest with a family holiday beckoning back in her native Lithuania.

Back home in Swords, Greta told the Fingal Independent: 'It's time to rest now so I've just been resting away and tomorrow I'm going to Lithuania so my holiday starts now.'

Greta and the whole team had a fantastic welcome home at Dublin Airport and Greta's sister and mother were there to greet her.

But the messages of congratulations started long before she got home, according to Greta, who explained: 'It was very nice. All the family was very happy and I got a lot of calls and messages when I was in Berlin so I think they were very excited to welcome me home.

'In general, I received a lot of support and all the messages and congratulations were very overwhelming.

'Even that night, my Nana was on the phone and it was very emotional. I don't know if it is the gold medal that makes you feel like that or is it all the support you get that really means so much.'

Always modest about her own achievements, Greta quickly deflected praise onto her Irish teammates.

She said: 'The whole team's achievement was amazing. It was the most successful European Championships for Irish Paralympics overall. So in general, I think the whole team was amazing and they are calling us the Dream Team now

'Everyone did very well and it was absolutely amazing by such amazing athletes and they definitely make you step up your game and make you perform as best you can.

'Of course, all the Paralympic staff and our team manager, James Nolan did an amazing job and without them I suppose, the European Championships would not be the same.'

Greta landed the first gold for the Irish team on a day when the team landed three gold medals.

She said: 'I was the first one so the pressure was on me but then Jason Smyth was second and he said: 'Greta, now you have put the pressure on me.' So myself, Jason Smyth and Orla Barry won on the same day.

'So after that, I was just supporting the rest of the team and losing my voice from cheering them on. I got a chance to see some of Berlin too so in general it was great, it was a great championships.'

So what were her expectations going into the championships and with the fastest time in Europe already under her belt.

She said: 'My ambition was to perform as best as I can. Sometimes things happen and sport is that way but I was fortunate enough to follow the plan I set with my coach and everything worked out perfectly.

'It wasn't my best time at all and I performed much better at the start of the season but it was a championship race and the time was enough to bring the medal home and that is what matters.'

Like every great athlete, Greta keeps striving for more and although a European gold medal is now hanging around her neck, she says the season could have gone better.

Greta explained: 'I wouldn't say I was massively happy with my season because there is always more, it can always be better.

'The season comes, you train and you try and then the season is over and the next season, you train and you try. So next season, I'm going to train hard and try again.'

Next season holds the prospect of medalling on the world stage with the World Championships due to be held in Dubai and now as one of the leading athletes at 1,500m in her classification, she can look forward to those championships with some confidence but Greta takes nothing for granted and simply hopes she makes it to the championships fit to run her race and simply does her best.

If you missed Greta's European race, you can find it on YouTube and there you will hear the race commentator say that the gold medal writes Greta's own page into a long and distinguished history of Irish middle distance runners.

She is shy about the comparison, saying: 'To be honest, I never thought about that. I don't feel part of that because those are great athletes, amazing athletes and it's too big to think of myself that way.

'I'm just a Paralympian middle-distance athlete who is successful this season -- that's enough for me and I'm happy enough with that for now.'

Greta's family moved to Ireland in 2010 where they eventually settled in Swords. A major part of that decision was so Greta could pursue her athletics dreams and the gold medal hanging around her neck is affirmation that decision was the right one although Greta says she has always known that.

Asked how her parents feel about the decision to move the family to Ireland, eight years ago, Greta said: 'Oh they are not regretting it at all. We have been a long time here now and there's never going to be a regret about it.

'At the age I am now it is really my decision at the end of the day. It is up to me to be happy and live and this is the best decision I have ever made.'

Asked if her parents had this vision in mind for her when they moved, Greta said: 'I don't know to be honest, I've never really talked about it with them.

'I think it (the gold medal) was reassurance for my parents. I have always known it was the best decision because I am in that experience. They can only see it from the side so I hope the gold medal is good proof. I hope so, I hope they feel ok about it.'

Greta became an Irish citizen in 2015 and has immense pride in representing her adapted country on the international stage and she says that it was the playing of the national anthem in Berlin when it finally hit home what she had just achieved.

'I can tell you this much. I came first and for a moment I didn't know what was happening and I didn't know how to feel about it.

'But when you are standing on that podium and the Irish National Anthem is playing, that was a moment when I thought, this is playing, Greta because you are actually bringing a gold medal home.

'I think that was for me a moment, that was very weird because I had never been in that position before but at the same time, it was quite a moment for me -- definitely a special moment.'

For those unfamiliar with this remarkable young woman's story, she was born some 22 years ago in Lithuania as one of three premature triplets. Shortly after birth as she spent her first days in an incubator, Greta's eyes were damaged by retinopathy, rendering her almost totally blind.

What followed was an extraordinarily determined campaign by her parents, Asta, her mother and Raimundas, her father to raise the money needed for Greta to have experimental surgery in Sweden that could potentially save her sight.

In 2010, her family moved to Ireland and eventually settled in Swords.

She became an Irish citizen in 2015 and elected to represent her adopted country at the Paralympic Games.

She has repeatedly spoken of her immense pride in representing her adopted home on the world stage and told the Fingal Independent that the European gold has made the decision of her family to move here all so worthwhile.

After a holiday in Lithuania, Greta will start to get back into her routine and by the end of the month she will be back in training in Dublin City University where she studies business. Dubai lies on the horizon for the Swords athlete and perhaps, another brightly coloured medal.

Fingal Independent