Katie O’ Brien Spearheads Galway Event Which Aims to Help Sportspeople with a Disability to Discover their Paralympic Potential

Paralympics Ireland is excited to bring the Permanent TSB NextGen athlete recruitment campaign to the Kingfisher sports centre at the University of Galway on May 14th for the first in four regional events that aim to discover the next generation of Irish Paralympians.

Permanent TSB NextGen is a one-day regional opportunity for young athletes interested in para sport to discover their Paralympic potential through a range of physical challenges and exploring different Paralympic sports.

Potential athletes need to register before attending and can do this by going to the Paralympics Ireland website at www.paralympics.ie.

Permanent TSB NextGen will bring together sports people with a disability with the aim of providing them with an opportunity to uncover their abilities in sports in which they may not yet have competed. Connacht has a proud history of producing world class para-athletes including para cyclists Martin Gordon, Richael Timothy and Ronan Grimes and Galway based para-canoeist Pat O’Leary.

Galway athlete and multiple world champion para rower, Katie O’ Brien is particularly excited about the prospect of new athletes finding their way to sport as she did in 2012. From a young age O’ Brien has had her sights set on Paralympic glory, long before she ever sat in a boat.

Athletes, from left, Katie OBrien, Mary Fitzgerald, and Jordan Lee during the launch of the Paralympics Ireland NextGen campaign at the Sport Ireland Institute in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Born with spina bifida, her life has been interrupted by several surgeries but never interfered with her love of sport. Growing up horse riding, playing camogie and Gaelic football, para sport was never something that was on her radar, simply because she didn’t know about it.

This all changed in 2012 when her eyes were opened to a whole new world of sport. Recounting watching the 2012 London Paralympics she said “Having watched the Olympics and then going on to watch the Paralympics just completely opened up this whole new world for me of para sport. At the time, horse riding would have been my sport so I e-mailed Paralympics Ireland while watching the Paralympics with my dad, telling them that I was into horse riding, I’d love to get involved, how do I do it and what’s out there”.

As chance would have it Paralympics Ireland were running a campaign similar to NextGen at the time. 16-year-old Katie attended with the intention of competing at para horse riding but that all changed on the day.

“We had a look around the different stalls and I ended up giving the rowing a go. After pulling a few strokes on the machine one of the coaches obviously saw some potential and I was invited into a rowing training camp a month later and that’s where my rowing journey began.”

Since those serendipitous few minutes on the rowing machine she has gone from strength to strength winning bronze in the PR2 women’s single sculls at the World Rowing Championships in 2019. She followed this up by winning gold in the same event at the World Rowing Championships in 2022.

Paralympic glory is still on her radar. She is currently training with Stephen McGowan and hoping that their double scull partnership will gain them a ticket to Paris 2024.

Speaking about the importance of programmes like Permanent TSB NextGen O’ Brien said:
“It’s something that I feel passionately about because that day totally changed the trajectory of my life. I’m a full time athlete now, I do nothing other than rowing and only for I went along to the similar Paralympics Ireland event in 2012 I wouldn’t even know what rowing was.

It’s exciting to have a program like this in place to bring through the next generation of Irish para-athletes.”

Speaking to the Permanent TSB NextGen athlete recruitment campaign, Cora Lennon, Permanent TSB Regional Head of Growth & Performance for North & West, said: “As proud title sponsor of Team Ireland, we are delighted to be teaming up with our Partners in Paralympics Ireland to deliver Permanent TSB NextGen.

Through our own commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we continually seek to create a more inclusive Permanent TSB for our colleagues and our customers. We are honoured to be working alongside Paralympics Ireland to support in creating more inclusive communities throughout Connacht and beyond through access to and participation in para sport, in the hopes of uncovering new Irish Paralympic heroes who will inspire the next generation.”

Permanent TSB is title sponsor of the Irish Olympic Team and Irish Paralympic Team for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris. They are the first title sponsor to partner with both teams during an Olympic and Paralympic cycle, as well as being Paralympic Ireland’s first-ever title sponsor.