Edel savours golden moment as Phoenix Flyer soars in Dubai

by James Hendicott

TWO PODIUM finishes for Special Olympics swimmer Edel Armstrong were the highlights of a swimming career that has already stretched beyond the young athlete’s dreams as she rose to a world medal winning standard at the contest in the UAE in mid-March.

Armstrong trains with the Phoenix Flyers club under Liz Ward, and qualified for the Irish Special Olympic team after a strong showing at the Irish Nationals last year.

The Ashtown-based youngster, in her early 20s, competes in category one, for those with mild learning disabilities. Her team, the Flyers, train in Coolmine swimming pool.

Only a few days before the event, it had looked likely Armstrong would have to pull out, after she developed an ear infection and was advised not to swim for several weeks.

She pulled through, however, and went on to win a silver medal in the 100 metre freestyle, finish fifth in the 200 metre freestyle and win gold with her teammates in the relay event at the swimming portion of the games in Dubai.

“I didn’t think I’d come back with any of these medals,” Armstrong told Dublin Gazette, pointing to the hefty but intricate metal she’s laid on the table before us.

“I was so nervous going out I was almost shaking. The training was going really well until the ear infection. I thought I wasn’t able to swim and found out I could on the last day before I went. We did a few lengths with the coaches to get ready. I’m really happy with how I did.

“They were really good hosts. When I won the gold for the relay, we were waiting for the results and we didn’t know where we’d finished. We thought we might be fourth, I was really, really happy when we were first.”

Armstrong swam the freestyle closing leg. Other highlights included walking behind the Irish flag at a massive opening ceremony, as well as being cheered by substantial family support at races, and watching Nicole Scherzinger perform at the closing ceremony.

The community spirit of the games stood out, too, with the Ireland team forming a tight bond as they worked towards their goals, as well as mingling with the other teams, exchanging national badges and experiencing different cultures.

“When I won the gold, I was almost crying with joy,” Armstrong said. “I thought we hadn’t got it. The opening ceremony was great, too, with the trip back stage, and walking out. I really liked that, wearing the uniforms. When we got back, there were paparazzi in the airport waiting for us.”

“The next event is in Berlin in four years time. I really hope I can be picked for that,” she concluded.

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