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Olympian’s parents had to make sacrifices of their own

Champion Chatter Podcast

ROISÍN McGeever never anticipated the sheer size of the crowd who turned out to welcome her son, Finn, back from the Toyko Olympics last week.
“I didn’t expect the numbers for one person. People in Ballina and Killaloe felt that qualifying for the Olympics was huge. I don’t think it has sunk in with us yet.
“We didn’t know until the Tuesday before he went he was going. Before they lined up for the race, I wasn’t sure they were going to swim. All you needed was one swimmer to have a positive Covid-19 test.
“If you couldn’t go to Toyko there was no better place to be than watching the race on the big screen in Ballina.
“When Finn came on the starting block everyone roared. When Finn dived in, everyone roared. He went off the screen, his elbow would appear and everyone would roar again. When he would turn the crowd would scream again. It was very exciting to watch.”
Roisín described the support for Finn before the race as “amazing”
“It was like mushrooms. Every time we went down to Ballina there was another banner popping up.”
She paid tribute to everyone who made posters, banners and bunting to support Finn in recent weeks.
“There was more bed sheets around town cut up and made into banners. I don’t know what people are sleeping on now. The kids broke down cardboard boxes and made signs for Finn. The kids were brilliant.”
She also appreciated three local businesses Wild Fig, Boruma and Scoops contributing to the cost of hiring the big screen at Lakeside Drive, Ballina, for people to watch the four by 200 metre relay race.
Roisín and her husband, Charlie shared the early morning trips to take Finn for training in the National Centre in the University of Limerick.
When Roisín started working in the ASD unit in Ballina National School, she found it hard to do the early mornings and then go into work.
She recalled St Anne’s Community College were very flexible about the fact Finn arrived late to school most days because of training.
Years ago, she recalled swim coach Ronald Hass told parents they should be called by their child to get up early for swimming training.
“It was hard. You could manage two early mornings in a row, but the third morning you felt night was day. We tried to share the mornings. When I changed my job in Ballina NS, Charlie did most of the mornings and I would pick up Finn at 4pm for training.
She feels they were fortunate Charlie had more flexibility to drop and collect Finn from school as a self-employed photographer.
“Charlie would meet me in St Anne’s with Finn’s dinner and Finn would go in to do his afternoon study. It was hamster in a wheel stuff. We kept going because the lads were interested in swimming.”
Swimming is a very popular pursuit in the family as Finn’s brothers, Donnacha and Ruairí swam competitively for years.
“Ruairi got a swim scholarship for a place in Galway but then got injured, which ended that.
“Donnacha decided in Fifth Year he had enough, which was fine. Ruairi and Donnacha also got a lot out of swimming.”
During the first lockdown last year, Roisín recalled they were very fortunate that their neighbours Tony and Patsy King gave Finn access to the lake to swim during the two kilometre Covid-19 restrictions.
“We were very lucky that Finn did manage to get to the Olympics. There are so many parents who are sleeping in swimming pool car parks all over the country with their morning pack.
“The morning pack was a duvet, sleeping bag and hot water bottle for the car. The winter mornings were cruel. All the parents had different spots in the UL car park where they went into sleep. You would be offended if someone took your spot beside the hedge at 4.30 in the morning.
“We made it fun for ourselves. I have made lifelong friends with parents of other swimmers.
“All the parents were in it together. When Finn passed his driving test in his Leaving Certificate year he said I will drive myself in and out of training.”
However, Roisín said he couldn’t as this would disrupt her social life, having made great friends with other parents of UL swimmers during the last six years.
She took up running with one of the other mothers and travelled abroad to do half marathons.
Charlie and Roisín never put pressure on Finn to continue swimming competitively and let him decide himself to pursue his own dream.
Roisín believes one of the hardest things to manage was Finn’s strict dietary requirements.
Finn had to have food before early morning training, a recovery snack within 20 minutes of completing training, breakfast had to be ready when he returned home at 8.20 am, lunch consisted of a snackpot, sandwiches and other food.
Finn had to eat again before his afternoon training session and a dinner for after school study.
“With both of us working, this was hard to manage. We had to make sure his diet was balanced. There were a lot of meals eaten in cars.
“When swimmers move to college they have to learn to cook themselves, which is hard when they have to train and go to college.
Finn recalled all the swimmers would come out at the same time and slap the window of their parents’ car to wake them up.
It is a big help, she believes, that all the swimmers live together as they have to get up early for training when some students are only coming home after socialising.

by Dan Danaher

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