My name is Eleanor Murray and I have Down Syndrome. I am 24 years old and I live in Trim, Co. Meath. I went to mainstream Primary and Secondary school in Trim where I completed my full State examinations (Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied) getting excellent results in both. I then went to Dunboyne College of Further Education where I got a Level 5 FETAC certificate with distinction in Sports Management and Coaching. I now work in the Aura Trim Leisure Centre where I am an assistant swim teacher and part-time leisure attendant.
I love sport. I follow the Meath GAA football team and the camogie team and get to as many games as I can. My own main sport is swimming but I also do athletics. I am a member of the mainstream swimming club in Kells, Co. Meath as well as of the Special Olympics Club, Trim (swimming) and the Special Olympics Club, Navan (athletics). I train 5 days per week during the swimming season and 2/3 days per week in the off-season. I do a mixture of pool and land training (gym and outdoor). Otherwise, I do drama and dance classes which I also love and I enjoy nothing better than going to the theatre, musicals, concerts and the cinema as well as socialising with my many friends.
Exercise and sport is good for me. It helps keep my weight down and helps me have a healthy lifestyle. Like many people with Down Syndrome, I have an underactive thyroid which poses challenges for me in managing my weight and fitness. As a competitive swimmer I have to eat properly and stay fit. Being fit and healthy also helps me to enjoy all other aspects of my life including my work. While I love my phone, social media, my MP3 player etc., having an active lifestyle helps me to keep a good balance between my sport and my other leisure activities.
I started my swimming career in Special Olympics way back in 2003 when I took part in my first Area Games. Since then I have competed in every Area, Leinster Regional and Ireland Games. I won two gold medals in each of the Ireland Games in Belfast (2006), Limerick (2010) and Limerick (2014). Progression to the Ireland Games is determined by lottery amongst the gold medal winners at Regional level. While I won two gold medals at the Leinster Regionals last year, my name did not come out of the hat this time and so the 2018 Ireland Games will be the first Special Olympics competition which I have missed since I started competing. I have never been lucky enough to have my name come out of the hat to represent Ireland at a World or European Special Olympics Games. Such are the ups and downs of sport.
I also swim in mainstream swimming galas with my club, Kells Swimming Club. I compete in Leinster Development Galas in the National Aquatic Centre (NAC) where I get great encouragement from Swim Ireland and from Swim Leinster in particular. These galas are very good for me, swimming against swimmers who have no disability. Often these galas help me to get qualifying times which I need in order to compete in International Down Syndrome Swimming Championships.
My main swimming outlet, however, is Down Syndrome swimming competitions. DS swimming is run by the Down Syndrome International Swimming Organisation (DSISO). It holds World and European Championships in alternate years. DSISO events are run to full FINA rules. DSISO has 31 national affiliates (including Ireland) from all continents and over 200 swimmers from 29 countries took part in the last World Championships in Florence, Italy in 2016. I have represented Ireland at five World Championships in Albufeira, Portugal (2008), Taipei, Taiwan (2010), Loano, Italy (2012), Morelia, Mexico (2014) and Florence, Italy (2016). I have also represented Ireland in four European Championships in Estarreja, Portugal (2011), Coimbra, Portugal (2013), Loano, Italy (2015) and Paris, France (2017).
I have enjoyed great success. At the last World Championships in Florence in 2016, I won the bronze medal in the 1,500m freestyle becoming the first Irish female swimmer to medal at that level. At the last European Championships in Paris, 2017 I won the gold medal in the 1,500m freestyle as well as the silver medal in the 800m freestyle and the bronze medal in the 400m freestyle. This was Ireland’s first ever gold medal at European level and it was brilliant to hear our National Anthem played at a major International swimming championships. I was so proud standing on the top step of the podium and honouring our National flag as a European Champion. At championship level, I have come through the heats to swim in numerous World and European finals and, in addition to my World bronze, I now have nine European Championship medals. Not bad for a swimmer from little old Ireland in a sport which, just like mainstream and Paralympic swimming, is otherwise dominated by the powerhouse swimming nations like Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Italy, Mexico and Great Britain to name but some and all of whom have very professional swimming regimes supporting their swimmers and teams at and between DSISO championships. I am also, of course, a multiple National Champion and National record holder.
I have just returned from Kosovo where I won a gold, two silver and a bronze medal at the 1st Kosovo Open in which 11 countries took part. I am currently training hard for the World Championships which will take place next month (July) in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Sport has been good to me. In 2010, I became the first person with disability to win the award as Young Meath Sports Personality of the Year. This week, Meath County Council is honouring me with a Civic Award Presentation for my services to sport. I have also been asked to present medals for the swimming competitions at the Special Olympics Ireland Games in Dublin.
Sport is not just my hobby, it is also my career. I worked part-time as a leisure attendant in the Aura Trim Leisure Centre where I also did a lot of my swim training (in the early mornings). However, I always wanted to teach swimming. With the support of my employer, I applied to Swim Ireland to go on a swim teacher course. My application was successful and last year I became the first person with Down Syndrome to get the Swim Ireland license as a qualified Level 1 Assistant Swim Teacher. I now work with the Level 2 swim teachers in my job to teach swimming to school groups, in the Aura Swim Academy and to adult beginners. I love my work and after I get a bit more experience I hope to go on and get my Level 2 swim teacher qualification.
I would encourage everyone to take up a sport of their choice. Even if you only do it at a hobby level, it is great for staying active and healthy and for making friends and socialising. For those who want to progress and compete in their sport there is the added benefit of learning discipline, of learning how to win and lose and of learning how to cope with the ups and downs of competitive sport. I am so grateful to my coaches, my clubs, my employer, my mentors and to the many friends I have made, both here and abroad, for the wonderful opportunities which swimming has given to me.