A SEASON’S best wasn’t enough to book a place in the Paralympic 400m freestyle final for a 19-year-old Killaloe swimmer on Friday last.
Jonathan McGrath narrowly missed out on a place in the final finishing ninth on a time of 4.53 after the results of the two heats were finalised. He was in fourth place in the first heat after the first 100m and retained this position throughout the race.
Despite coming so close to qualifying for the final, his mother, Betty, insists he wasn’t overly disappointed and was already looking forward to the next Paralympics in Rio in 2016.
“Jonathan went into the Paralympics 14th in the world, now he is ninth, which is great progress. After finishing his race, he sent me a text, ‘I gave it all I had, I had nothing left in the tank, here’s to Rio in 2016’”.
“A huge amount of training goes into the performance for under five minutes. The Irish team were very happy with Jonathan’s performance. It was a great learning experience for him and provides a great platform for competing in Rio in four years’ time,” she said.
Jonathan, who was Cerebal Palsy, was only a half a second off his personal best. Betty said the opening ceremony was thrilling with a fantastic firework display.
“There was a great buzz around Killaloe before the Paralympics. The amount of goodwill, cards, phone calls and texts was unbelievable,” she said.
All the McGrath family went over to London for the Paralympics. Betty, John, Christopher and Laura saw the Irish team achieve a string of gold medals. Laura was chuffed to get the opportunity of holding the first Irish gold medal won by Bethany Firth after the 100m backstroke final.
While families didn’t get access to the Olympic village, Betty recalled there was a tremendous atmosphere, particularly in the hospitality are in Duncan House.
“It was an amazing experience to be at the Paralympics. It was absolutely brilliant. It was great to see so many Irish athletes winning gold medals and performing so well in various disciplines.
“There was a lovely atmosphere anywhere Team Ireland went. I never experienced anything like it before. Jonathan swam in the Aquatic Centre before a capacity attendance of 17,000 after all the tickets were sold out.
“We took great joy in all the Irish athletes’ success. It was a great opportunity to be there,” she said.
Betty and the family came back on Sunday night as Laura had to go back to school. Jonathan is coming back to Killaloe next Monday and the following Monday he goes back to the University of Limerick to start his second-year psychology degree.
Clonlara Paralympian Sarah Caffrey, who competed in the adaptive rowing competition last weekend, said the team did not perform as well as they hoped but nonetheless, the experience has been one to remember.
“We came 10th overall so we are disappointed in the result but taking part has been an amazing experience. We’re now getting to support the rest of the squad and we have so far been to support the squad at the swimming, cycling, and athletics events, where Ireland have won several medals. Standing in the front row for the national anthem for Michael McKillop’s second gold has been one of the highlights but the whole experience has been amazing,” she said.