Growing up in the Polish city of Poznan, Monika Dukarska remained blissfully unaware that she lived within walking distance of one of Europe's foremost rowing venues.
Lake Malta is a man-made regatta course on the river Warta which has hosted World and European Championships.
For Monika, it was a place she went rollerblading with her pals or cycling with her father Jack.
"The course is literally a 10-minute tram journey from where I used to live. I never thought I’d end up rowing there for Ireland," she reveals.
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Killorglin, Co Kerry is where Monika and her family now call home.
Her journey from Poland's fifth largest city to a place on the first Ireland women’s pairs’ boat to qualify for the Olympics is a story of courage, adaptability, persistence, true grit and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Though it is becoming increasing problematic as to whether the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics will actually go ahead next year, Dukarska cannot entertain such negative thinking.
But even the worst-case scenario in sport will be nothing compared to the despair she felt after her first day in Killorglin Intermediate School following her arrival in Ireland as a 16-year-old in 2006.
More than 14 years have passed but she still remembers it was a Friday.
Six months earlier Monika was a contented teenager who liked to play basketball with her friends in Poznan. Poland had joined the EU two years earlier. But opening up the country's economic borders brought mixed blessings.
Traditional industries couldn't compete in the globalised market. The small company her mother Katarzyna worked for as a clothes-maker went bust.
She had a contact in Ireland and decided to travel here with a friend. Initially, the plan was to go for three months to earn some extra cash.
"She got good work in a shop in Killorglin and asked us whether we wanted to join her. We decided to take a leap of faith," she said.
Monika, her sister Agnieszka – who was 11 – and her father Jack joined Katarzyna in Killorglin. Jack found a job in a bakery and now is a self-employed 'handy man' in the town.
The language barrier seemed insurmountable at the beginning. "I literally had no conversational English when I came to Ireland apart from a couple of phrases," she says.
"I hated that first day at school, even though it was just an introduction. I remember coming back crying and saying 'I'm not going back there again'. People were really friendly; they were coming and saying hello but I couldn't speak back. So I felt isolated. It was a surreal experience."
But Monika stood out for another reason. She was six-foot tall and towered over the majority of the other fourth-year students in Killorglin Intermediate – and the height difference was accentuated because she wore a pair of platform shoes on her first day.
The school worked hard to assimilate her and a group of girls were given the task of mentoring her. One of them, Nicole, suggested Monika join her in Killorglin rowing club.
"I didn't even know what rowing as a sport was. Ultimately, the club became a bit like a second home. School was cool but I was able to be myself in the club. It helped me to make friends and practice my English."
Though Dukarska had the physical attributes to make it in rowing, a lack of technical know-how left her floundering at the beginning.
"I literally 'sucked' – I was so bad. I remember the girls giving out to me because I was placing my blades too deep in the water and in the first couple of competitions I crabbed (lost control of the blade) and the whole boat stopped," she said.
Monika stopped as well. "I thought I wasn't destined for this rowing, so I quit for a couple of weeks. But I went back because I loved it."
A decision by Killorglin club coach Michael Fleming Jnr to put her into a single proved the turning point in her career. "I had to paddle for myself. I didn’t have anybody else to worry about, so I started to learn how to move the boat," said Monika.
Within two years she had won the World Coastal rowing championships – she won it again in 2016. But her career has primarily been focused on mainstream rowing, in which the races are on a 2,000m flat-water course.
She went back to being a member of a crew, alternating between sculling (in which the oarswomen use two blades) to sweep rowing (in which they use one blade).
Monika's Irish career was initially frustrated because she didn't hold an Irish passport – she needed to be living here for six years before being eligible for one.
At junior level she rowed for Poland, winning a silver medal in the single sculls in the European championships.
She actually spent a summer back in Poznan in a Polish training camp. It marked a turning point in her life.
"Actually I was lonely. My family was back in Ireland and the country had done a lot for me, so I decided I would row for Ireland," she said.
Though it meant sacrificing her international career at U-23 level Monika stuck with her decision. One of the happiest days in her life was in October 2012 when she finally received her Irish passport.
Her first senior race in an Irish singlet came at a World Cup regatta the following spring and later in 2013 she competed in the World championships in Korea.
Alongside her rowing career she continued her studies. For somebody who vowed never to return to school after her first day’s experience, she has grown to love the Irish education system.
After her Leaving Certificate she completed a four-year degree in Business Management in Tralee IT.
Since then she has completed two Masters’ degrees in Tralee IT – one a research Masters in entrepreneurship and a second in innovation design.
She is currently working on a PhD in which she is designing a workshop for facilitators to help them stimulate innovation in the food sector in small and medium-sized businesses.
Physically, rowing takes no prisoners. The palms of the hands are the first to suffer, with blisters regarded as an occupational hazard.
"There were days when I couldn't go on the water because I couldn't hold on to the blades. I was forever putting bandages and plasters on my hands but thankfully those days are over," she says.
At elite level, lactic acid is the rowers’ bête noire. "It's all about getting accustomed to the lactic acid and, if at all possible, use it as an energy source. Of course, you feel the burn in your legs and your lungs as you try to push it in a race," says Monika.
"Ideally, you don’t want to be hurting early in a race. You have to trust yourself, that when you have to speed up in the last 300 metres, you will find the extra gear and push through the pain."
The training loads are prodigious as is the calorie intake to sustain it. Whereas the average woman needs to eat about 2,000 calories per day – Monika regularly requires twice that figure, which means a lot of eating and cooking.
Up until the lockdown the Irish elite-rowing squad was based in the National Rowing centre on Inniscarra Lake in West Cork.
They lived in rented accommodation in the nearby towns of Ballincollig and Coachford and shopped and cooked for themselves. "One of the advantages of living at home is that my mum does all the cooking now," she reveals.
After more than a decade in the sport it all came together for Dukarska at last year’s World championships in Ottensheim, Austria. High Performance director Antonio Maurogiovanni had tried different combinations in the coxless-pair boat before settling on Dukarska and Aileen Crowley.
They missed the A final by one place but were second in the B final, which secured the boat a spot in the Olympics.
"I was thrilled. The semi-final was the toughest because we missed out on the ‘A’ final in a very tight finish. We literally gave it our best shot in all the races," she said.
Waiting around for another year for the Olympics doesn’t bother her – she has postponed the deadline for the submission of her doctorate.
Rowing is centre stage in her life, even if all the action is away from the water right now.