Saturday 22 September 2018

How swimming with Olympics legend Michael Phelps helped medal hero Gary McEnroe win Special Olympics bronze

Team Irelands Gary McEnroe, a member of St John of God Menni Services, from Tallaght, Dublin, with his Bronze Medal
Team Irelands Gary McEnroe, a member of St John of God Menni Services, from Tallaght, Dublin, with his Bronze Medal

A DUBLIN athlete swam with Michael Phelps and collected one of Ireland's first medals on Day One of the Special Olympics' World Games.

Gary McEnroe, from Kilnamanagh, in Tallaght, told the Herald he was "so proud" after winning bronze in the 25-metre backstroke.

The 24-year-old spent his morning training with the most-decorated Olympian of all time, so perhaps it was no surprise he was well prepared.

READ MORE: Irish athletes among the medals on opening day of competition at Special Olympics

Phelps, who won 18 Olympic gold medals, held a session for a select few athletes, including the Dubliner, before the competition got into full swing.

"I used to be bullied, which taught me to accept everyone for who they are," Phelps said. "You see the athletes smiling all the time. They have so much energy."

READ MORE: Three Irish swimmers claim Ireland's first medals at Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles

Gary's final at the Uytengsu Aquatics Centre, in the University of Southern California, took place as temperatures soared above 30C.

His third place finish was met with roars of approval from the huge Irish contingent that flanked both sides of the outdoor pool.

Two other Irish swimmers also collected medals on the opening day of competitions.

Sean Coleman (22), from Youghal, in Cork, took silver in the 25-metre backstroke while Sarah Jane Johnston (35), from Lurgan, Co Armagh, claimed a bronze medal in the 100-metre backstroke.

Sean said it was the proudest moment in his whole life. His mother, Fidelma, described him as the family "hero".

"It's great for Team Ireland. Sean has come on a long journey. He's been training with Special Olympics Cork for the last 19 years, so this is a big one. It's fantastic," she said.

Sarah Jane Johnston's mother, Helen, couldn't hold back the tears as she struggled to find words to describe the feeling. "Absolutely delighted," she repeated.

"I didn't think that she would do as well as she did. It's been a long slog. We're very proud."

Earlier in the day the Team Ireland soccer side opened their campaign with a 0-0 draw against their English counterparts.


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