Ireland’s top female Kayak competitor, Eadoin Ni Challarain, from Spiddal, Co. Galway, has her heart set on an Olympic medal. Anything else will be a letdown. The Galway student doctor has recently completed a two-week training camp in the U.S. with world silver medallist Scott Shipley and is now a full-time Kayak competitor.
“There goes our Eadaoin again,” went a popular TV commercial promoting the Olympics Down Under. The battered and weathered face of a local Connamara man doing the talking touched the hearts of the U.S nation. It wasn’t what he said, but more the pride in his eyes as he watched Ni Challarain take her Kayak out onto the ocean when most brave men sipped pints in pubs. Ni Challarain didn’t win a medal in Sydney, but the experience did give her renewed hope.
“I know I can make the grade for Athens in 2004”, she said. “You must set goals and that’s mine right now.”
When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept 11, Ni Challarain’s heart sank. She was in the U.S at the time for the canoe-slalom World Championships and was in shock at what see saw and heard. The race was subsequently cancelled.
“It was heartbreaking; we just watched the unbelievable events unfold on the TV,” she said.
A day later, however, Ni Challarain was back in the water, pounding the waves.
Indeed, Ni Challarain has worked harder than most to get to the top of her sport. She started almost by accident after her father bought a kayak for an outdoor education course.
“I loved the sport from day one,” she said.
While studying to become a doctor a year later, she joined the Galway University kayak team and started competing. Her prowess and power was soon recognized and inside of a year she was on a sabbatical from college and training in the UK with the British canoe-slalom team.
“That was tough,” she said. “I had to leave home, my family and my friends.”
A short time later, Ni Challarain was competing with the best in the World. Backing and funding arrived from many sectors, none alone sufficient to support her efforts, yet together enough to keep her rowing toward her dream. When times were tight she worked to make ends meet. It has all been worthwhile, she said.
In 2003 Ni Challarain’s date with destiny begins in Germany and the World Championships. A good performance will send her to Athens full of confidence. College, career and friends will take a back seat until then.
Training 10 to 14 times a week with one day of rest may seem mad to those not familiar with the sport’s demands, but Ni Challarain well understands the sacrifices Olympic glory demands.
“It’s not easy, but my greatest passion in life right now is kayaking,” Ni Challarain said. “I get a real high from gliding on the water and surfing a big wave.
“I’ve learned an awful lot about life from the challenges of kayaking and that has made me a more focused and a better person. I don’t feel like I’ve given up anything; it’s a different way of living.”
The weathered Connemara faces will keep watching their star. Eadaoin Ni Challarain gives them something to talk about.