Words by Kieran O'Connor

Shane Ryan speaks to Female First
Shane Ryan speaks to Female First

Irish Olympic hopeful Shane Ryan has lifted the lid on his preparations for next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, as the swimmer revealed he is desperate to give his nation a gold medal to celebrate after the scandals of years gone by.

The American-born gold medal hopeful has told Female First that he has no worries about his nationality or loyalty being questioned by cynics, as he is determined to prove the cynics wrong with a podium finish and make not only the country, but his Irish-born father proud.

The swimmer shares his struggles and highs he has experienced whilst living alone in his new home Ireland, also telling us how he has avoided lockdown blues and how he survived life without his close family.

Ireland's Olympic swimming story is marred by the controversy created by fallen hero Michelle Smith, who won three gold medals at the 1996 Olympics before a dramatic fall from grace amid mounting claims that she was using performance-enhancing drugs.

Now Ryan has laid out his vision for winning an Irish gold as a clean athlete, with his story an inspirational tale of dedication and passion.

How have you found the experience of lockdown? 

Ireland has done an amazing job of trying to cut down the impact of this virus. I was out of the water for three months and that is the longest time I have been away from swimming for my entire life. Sport Ireland sent me some weights and a bike so I could work out for three hours a day, kept up with my nutrition and had a routine that helped to keep me going. I lived through the whole three months by myself and that was the toughest part. I wanted to stay close to the pool so I could get straight back in there when it re-opened and this is my home (Ireland) and I wanted to prove that to everyone. I lived here by myself, I got through it, while it was tough at times. I am an optimistic person by nature, I wake up every day confident it will be a good day and that has helped me.

How are you preparing for the Olympics?

It is just a reset of goals. We have an opportunity to race in Italy but are waiting to hear back about that. There may not be a race until January or even the Olympic trials. I am however very blessed and honoured to be a part of the ISL league, they are trying to put together a six-week training/competition in Australia. They’re going to have all the teams there, so I will be able to race there. So, I am excited about that. Then I need to achieve the Olympic Qualification time, I have already achieved it but not under the new guidelines. We should be in Tokyo now competing, but this extra year could play into my hands. I'm certain I'm going be quicker next year than I would have been this year, 100 per cent. I need to build on the work I have put in over the last year and I am not alone in that.

Do you feel you have been accepted as an Irish Olympian?

My name is Shane Patrick Ryan. People might question why I am here representing Ireland, but I consider myself to be as Irish as anyone in this country. I have every right to swim for Ireland and just because I don't have the accent, I don't think that should be held against me. I am Irish, through and through. My Dad and his nine siblings all come from Portarlington. My Mum's side are all from Mayo and I have every right to be here and swim for my country. I will ignore the naysayers and the cynics and do what I do. I chose this path and I knew there would be people who are against you. I just need to prove them wrong, do what I need to do to represent Ireland with pride and if I am stood there with a medal at the Olympics next summer, I'm pretty sure no one will be complaining about whether I should be considered Irish.

How tough has it been to make a career out of swimming?

It is extremely hard to make money out of swimming. Don't go into this sport if you are looking to get rich because it won't happen! I am sponsored by Circle K and I love working with them. They have helped me to get to this point but funding a swimming career is tough. You must sell yourself the best you can, I don’t mind speaking in front of people, I am confident in myself. Swimming is one of the most time-consuming sports in the Olympics, I train for around 30 hours a week for a 22 second or a 53 second race.

What is your ultimate dream?

My lifelong dream is to win a medal for Ireland, especially because of the past (referring to the Michelle Smith controversy). A clean Irish athlete winning an Olympic swimming medal would be amazing. I can achieve that by doing everything I can and keep putting myself in the best position to do so. I have another year of opportunities to become better, know myself better and capitalise on the mistakes I made last year. A lot of people ask me; would I prefer an Olympic medal or a world record. A world record is there to be broken it will not last forever, but an Olympic medal will. No one could take that away from. Winning an Olympic medal has always been a lifelong dream for me.

What do your parents think of your career representing Ireland?

My parents have always supported me. It is hard being away from them, but this is the life I chose. It has been especially hard during quarantine because both my Mum and Sister tested positive for Covid-19. Both my mum and sister were quite ill over in the states. It was killing me not being able to be there to help them out, but at the same time if I were there maybe I would have also fallen ill. It was hard. My Dad loves me being here as he has such a large family in Ireland. I have been to see them all as much as I can. The family support I receive is great.

Shane is an ambassador for Circle K’s ‘Here for Ireland’ initiative. Customers can scan their app or Play or Park loyalty tag in-store to generate digital coins, which Team Ireland athletes can use to fuel their journey to Tokyo.

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