Swimmer Ellen Keane boosted by Sky Scholar mentor Orla Chennaoui

By Mark Ashenden

Last Updated: 10/04/2018, 12:00 GMT

Orla is mentoring Ellen
Orla Chennaoui has become part of Ellen Keane's support team as a Sky mentor

With three Paralympics already on her CV, para-swimmer Ellen Keane knows what she's doing in the pool.

Sky Sports News reporter and presenter Orla Chennaoui is unlikely to be passing on her butterfly or breaststroke tips.

But dealing with nosy journalists, coping with pressures of competition or picking up digital skills for a career in media? Orla is on hand as Ellen's Sky Sports Scholar mentor.

As Orla reveals, the pair have already started learning from each other...


When I found out I was mentoring Ellen, I was delighted.

Partly because she is Irish and it's nice to have that connection, and partly because, with her level of achievement from such a young age, I felt certain she would be someone interesting and dynamic, and thought she'd be great to get to know and to work with.

When I was first asked to be a mentor, I had no idea what it would entail but I immediately said yes. I felt from the start it could be something incredibly interesting, and that myself and the athlete could hopefully learn something from each other. Plus, as a huge sports fan, I was obviously excited about being a small part of someone's sporting journey.

Throughout my own career over the years, I've picked up lots of best practices - from different coaches to sporting federations. My experiences are broad and very varied, whereas if you're an elite athlete, your experience and knowledge is in-depth but very specific.

I thought I could bring other things from other disciplines that might spark an idea with an athlete.

Ellen and I first spoke on the phone when I was waiting for my daughter to finish her swimming lesson, and Ellen was stuck in traffic on her way to swim training.

We got chatting and I immediately noticed how Ellen is so switched on and clear about what she wants. That was very encouraging she was happy to lead her own journey and take ownership.

She then came to London for some ambassadorial work, and I met her and her business mentor. It was a lovely triangle of conversation. As a journalist and reporter, you know many things in a lot of areas but you don't go very deep. Her business mentor had that specific knowledge of business, and we just all had a brilliant chat.

Ellen is also very interested in media and online platforms and so I'm hoping to help with that and get a project off the ground. I can give her specific advice, like what equipment to buy.

It will also be emotional support away from the pool because there's nothing I can teach her about swimming or coaching!

It was all about listening to start with and trying to learn about her journey and what she needs, what she's doing well in, not so well in, and seeing if I can support in any of those areas.

It can be quite daunting as a mentor and worrying about knowing how to help. The athlete is obviously looking for advice and you want to be the best you can. It's also not just giving advice for the sake of it.

I'm not supposed to be a life-fixer, just to be on hand. She'll get to know what I can offer and hear about my own experiences. It was a very open unstructured relationship to begin with, but it was still quite terrifying!

Ellen has become very aware of her possibilities as a role model and she's embraced that, which is incredibly inspiring. She's speaking openly about body confidence issues and any insecurities she might have had growing up physically different to her peers.

As a mother to a three-year-old daughter, I'll be really proud to point to Ellen as an example of not letting anything stand in your way, and to show just how far hard work (and talent!) can get you.

One thing I can't wait for is to see Ellen compete. She is a very friendly, bubbly and open person but also very strong-minded. I'd love to see her 'in the zone' - that will be very interesting!

It's impossible to know how our relationship will develop. I just hope it builds and that when things are thrown her way, she'll know she can come to me.

She's already competed in three Paralympics, so there's very little in an Olympic cycle she's not familiar with. The difference this time round is she's becoming very well known in Ireland, and will be one of the faces of the Para-European Championships in Dublin this summer.

I have interviewed many Olympic athletes who have world media attention throughout a Games, and also national media attention in the build-up. The difficult thing is watching that excitement fade, and the media attention move on. It's not like F1 or football where the media is constantly interested in you, and that can bring its own pressures and psychological adjustments.

That won't be new for Ellen but she's at a stage of her career where she can capitalise on this window of interest, to give her a launch pad for whenever she retires from swimming.

I would love to help with that transition and I hope that's where my expertise can come into play.