Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane on dogs and psychologists helping in lockdown
Paralympic swimmer and Sky Sports Scholar Ellen Keane says sport is crucial for wellbeing, adding "the spike in mental health problems since lockdown could cause more deaths than Covid-19"
Last Updated: 15/11/20 6:01pm
For three months during lockdown earlier this year Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane used old sun chairs, tree trunks and the side of the sofa to keep up with her training, writes Gail Davis, Sky Sports Scholar mentor.
For the moment Ellen is thankful she won't be resorting back to her concrete bricks in her innovative garden gym, especially given the autumnal weather in Dublin. But with the emergency full national lockdown in Ireland she has other challenges to contend with.
The Sky Sports Scholar says: "Thankfully for me, not much has changed in terms of my training but everything else does now. It's the social aspect that is difficult. I struggle with the silence during the day when I am not training, I need to fill my time more."
The very best athletes have a razor sharp focus, the even better ones often have a balance from distractions away from the intensity and that's something Ellen is making sure she overcomes.
After the initial lockdown lifted, she moved into her own flat. The reality of a busy student house with flat-mates coming and going and then quarantining wasn't compatible with training given how much time she'd missed in the pool.
The days at times have been long and lonely. That was until Denny arrived - a miniature long-haired dachshund puppy with the sort of eyes that mean he can be quickly forgiven for the chewed bank card and being slow on the uptake with toilet training.
Ellen adds: "During the first lockdown everyone was saying how great technology is and 'look at us talking on Zoom' but you can get sucked into that world.
"Real life isn't in technology, it is in the present where you are living and physically-being. That's why I wanted a dog. He keeps me in the present, we walk and get outside. I'd otherwise get sucked into scrolling and hours go by - it is so dangerous."
Keane, as an elite athlete is able to use the swimming pool and the gym. She feels fortunate given the Tier 5 lockdown in Ireland which means the general public can't.
"It's really upsetting to see," she says. "I know the impact sport can have on mental health especially with the current weather people aren't able to go out and exercise.
"Gyms and sports centres are essential in helping people's mental health. The spike in mental health problems since lockdown could cause more deaths than Covid-19."
After getting her head around the postponement of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, she threw herself into her university work finishing her Culinary Entrepreneurship thesis.
Her next deadline to work towards is hopefully a fourth Paralympics next year but she has no competitions in the diary before then. That is a strange concept for someone used to planning on pushing herself at the highest level.
"We were trying to organise a few competitions and we were originally going to go up north to Bangor just for two hours in a pool for racing but due to the new travel lockdown travel restrictions that's now gone," she says.
There was another Paralympic competition in Germany a few weeks ago but the requirements when travelling from Ireland mean she would have to self isolate. Ellen says "you can't take a swimmer out of the pool for two weeks when you have missed three months in lockdown".
'Can't see anything in the future'
She is learning to adapt to this new way of living and understands there will be good and bad days and not to be too hard on herself.
"I told my sport psychologist I find it really hard to be and feel an elite athlete at the moment. The whole thing about being an athlete is competing, training and racing. I am finding it so hard as I can't see anything in the future.
"Even the training goals I struggle to even do them. She told me the most elite thing an athlete can do is to just turn up to training and get it done.
"I spoke to her before my session and hearing that it was OK to do that I just turned up, the pressure was off and I had my best session in ages."
Ellen knows trusting those around her is the way she arrives in Tokyo ready to go for gold.
"I don't feel it but my coach says I am probably in the best shape he has seen me in at this point of the season," she says.
Given the high standards she sets herself and the challenges over the past few months, even she has to be happy with that.