Galway rower Katie O’Brien is set to make history this weekend when she competes at the prestigious Henley Women’s Regatta in England. Katie will be the first Irish para rower to compete at the event, which is the premier rowing regatta for women in the UK, with more than 1600 competitors taking part this year.
Aged 17, Katie hopes to bring home a medal in the Trunk and Arms single sculls, and become the first Irish crew to win a medal since Neptune Rowing Club won the Elite Lightweight Pair in 2010.
Katie only took up the sport in January 2013, having been identified as a talented athlete through a Para Talent Search Day in Dublin.
“I always had an interest in getting involved in sports using upper body strength,” says Katie, who after just six months was selected to represent Ireland at the 2013 World Cup at the Olympic venue of Dorney Lake at Eton in England. She competed the Trunk and Arms discipline in a mixed double scull with fellow Galwegian Keith Connolly. They finished in sixth place overall against top-tier international competitors.
“It was an amazing experience over in Eton Dorney, the atmosphere was incredible and it was great just getting to meet the other Para rowers from different countries,” she said. “I also felt proud to be representing my country.”
Katie’s long-term ambition is to compete at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio in the Trunk and Arms discipline, where the only event is a mixed double scull.
“It’s way in the future, but what I do now will have a huge effect on it,” she says.
Pete Heaney, the national para rowing coach who is currently coaching O’Brien, says Katie is an inspiration to all Irish rowers.
“Katie is a fantastic athlete to work with her attitude and work ethic is an inspiration,” he says.
Katie, who lives in Galway with her family, has completed her fifth year at Yeats College in Galway, and is also a keen horse rider.
Katie trains at Tribesmen Rowing Club, under the guidance of Heaney, Mike Gaffney and Ann Giblin. For the remainder of the 2014 season, she plans to work on improving her skills in the boat and gaining racing experience.
She will be guaranteed plenty of racing against strong opposition at Women’s Henley, where she will race against the best rowers from Britain and the USA. The first round of the event will be a time trial on Saturday to seed the athletes, leading to semi-finals and a final on Sunday.