SWORDS woman Greta Streimikyte says the value of Paralympics Ireland’s “The Next Level” campaign will go far further than funding, hoping it will bring far greater awareness to her sport.
The Rio Paralympian – and 2018 T13 1,500m European gold medalist – said she was amazed by the support generated in the first few days of the campaign with over €60,000 raised toward the €500,000 target in the first four days.
The money will help address a significant shortfall for Paralympic sport in Ireland due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But Streimikyte says it is not the sole purpose of this campaign.
“There is a shortfall of course but the programme will be more focused on the future and our future athletes beyond the Tokyo 2021 group,” she told the Dublin Gazette on Tuesday.
“The sport is becoming more competitive and so you need more funds in order for us to reach the next level, to be the best we can be. This campaign represents equality and talking about Paralympic sport, getting the public more familiar with the message. It has more than one purpose.”
A late arrival to athletics, she was only introduced to running competitively at the age of 17 at Rosmini School in Drumcondra. At the time, she had no idea of where it could take her but her PE teacher Sean Gallagher encouraged to try out during classes with able-bodied students and it blossomed from there.
She has a vision impairment as the result of being born prematurely as one of three triplets. She sustained damage to her retina after she was placed in an incubator and while she was originally diagnosed as fully blind, her parents sought a second opinion in Sweden and further surgery returned partial sight to her left eye.
And she says a greater awareness of the Paralympic movement can introduce sport to people in her position at a far earlier age.
“It is about knowledge. Every four years, you see Paralympic sport getting bigger and bigger but then, after the event, it all goes a bit silent. We have to continue the conversation, spreading the message and to learn about it.
“The more familiar people are, the more amazed they are by what we do. It’s me included. As an athlete, I had to learn about Paralympic sport, not just about my event but other events and what they do. I am amazed by what they can do. It will take time but it will get more people behind it.”
For now, her focus is very much on the Tokyo Paralympics in August and doing what she can to be competitive.
Races have been hard to come by and when they have come, the racing element has been tough to replicate but she feels the hard yards being put in on Howth Hill with the Dublin Track Club are paying dividends.
“I was lucky enough to compete in the Athletics Ireland micro-meet a few weeks ago. I wasn’t particularly happy with how it went but, as training shows, there is definitely more there.
“It was an opportunity to race which was good for my mental side. But it was only three athletes in the field and I had to chase a time. It was different and there was a bigger gap between me and the other girls.
“You do need someone to run with you in a race scenario to push you on when you are hurting. You miss a bit of that mental stimulation of what a race normally looks like but this was much closer to what a race looks like compared to a time trial.”
She is hopeful more races can be pencilled in for April and May but nothing is confirmed to date. June’s European Championships looks the next most likely opening.
“It’s day by day and things are changing very quickly. Any race that comes along, I am going to try and compete. Under the guidelines, I feel completely comfortable travelling as it is part of being an athlete. You do have to adapt and need to do what you need to for the Paralympic Games.
Greta Streimikyte was speaking following the announcement of Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. Ireland’s elite para-athletes are constantly striving to achieve the next level of their sport through dedication, commitment, and perseverance.
The new campaign aims to raise vital funds for para-athletes in Ireland and help to support Team Ireland’s journey to Tokyo 2021 and beyond. You can get behind the team now at: https://paralympics.ie/
PHOTO – Simon Burch