Monday 21 May 2018

The son of a Laois man, Ireland's American-born Olympic swimmer Shane Ryan recalls weekends in Portarlington


Shane Ryan, who will compete in the 100m backstroke tomorrow, 50m and 100m. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Ryan, who will compete in the 100m backstroke tomorrow, 50m and 100m. Photo: Sportsfile

Barry Lennon

Shane Ryan's new home on Dublin's outskirts hasn't lived up to the liveliness he enjoyed at Penn State University.

In fact, in Ryan's own words, it has been "boring as sh**."

The former US national team-member was forced to live in Ireland for a year so that he could achieve his Olympics dream under the Irish flag.

The 22-year-old, who holds dual Irish and American citizenship, swapped the college of 50,000 students for a house near the National Sports Campus in deserted Abbotstown.

Although he maintains there were reasons to be positive about his predicament.

"It's worth it though because it makes you focused. It's kind of sad just training all the time. You can't just go down to the pub to watch a football game," he says.

"But it also means I look forward to the weekends when I can go visit my dad's family in Portarlington."

Ryan's father Thomas moved from Laois to Philadelphia in the 1980s playing Gaelic football while working in construction.

Shane returned often with his dad to the homestead during his childhood but it was this year the swimmer came to rely on his family in the O'Moore County.

He began to hit it off with his grandfather Paddy when he first arrived to train for Rio in May last year.

The pair played golf together when Shane would visit at weekends until Paddy fell ill last Christmas. Unfortunately, Paddy didn't recover from illness and passed away in January.

"I remember thinking even if I didn't get to go (to Rio) it's been worthwhile coming over to Ireland for this long as I've got to spend eight months getting to know my grandfather," Ryan recalls.

"When I got the qualifying time for the Olympics in March, it was for my grandfather. It was something the family needed."

Ryan, who will compete in the 100m backstroke tomorrow (6.30), 50m and 100m freestyle, was the first Irish swimmer to qualify on home soil in Donegal.

Before qualification, his personal best (53.84 seconds) in the backstroke category was faster than the national record (54.44 seconds). As well as competing for the US national team he competed at the US Olympics trials in 2012, finishing in 28th.

However, he reasoned his best chance of reaching an Olympics remained with Ireland and it paid off.

"The Olympics are the biggest stage in the world. You need to use your nerves to get pumped up. Otherwise it might freak you out," he adds.

He hopes to make Tokyo 2020 under the Irish flag but worries the competition isn't currently in Ireland to "keep pushing himself" at the top level.

"Here GAA and football are the main sports and schools can't support swimming like they can in the US," he explains.

"People get frustrated and say, 'Why aren't you sending more people to the Olympics?' Well why don't they fund it more?"

"I want to compete for Ireland in 2020. But who knows what will happen by 2020?

"Swim Ireland have done a great job with limited resources... but will I still enjoy swimming by then?"

Irish Independent

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