Cork teenager Noelle Lenihan has vowed to get back to her schoolbooks as soon as possible, despite her precocious medal win at the 2016 Paralympics.
The 16-year-old won a bronze medal in the F38 discus on Saturday night to bring Ireland’s final medal tally in Rio to 11 (four gold, four silver and three bronze), just five short of London 2012 and their second biggest haul since 1988.
But Lenihan, who comes from a talented Milford family of runners and hurlers/camogie players, has no intention of resting on her laurels after her sensational Paralympic debut.
“The support I’ve received from my school has just been unreal, but I’m doing the Leaving this year and I’ve missed a bit already, so I need to get back in quickly,” she said.
Her teachers at Hazelwood College, Dromcollogher, will still surely tell her to take the rest of the week off, after her Brazilian heroics when she arrives home with the Irish team on Wednesday.
Lenihan was not only the second youngest member of Ireland’s 48-strong Paralympic team but the youngest, by a long way, in the F38 discus field.
She won silver at the World Championships last year and gold at this year’s Europeans, but nothing prepared her for the cauldron of Rio’s Olympic Stadium, especially when she was tussling for a medal with a local heroine.
To take bronze with her first throw (31.71m), especially after struggling with a shoulder problem beforehand, indicates that Lenihan has a huge future in the sport.
“Noelle was actually injured for the last four days so she was amazing,” revealed Paralympic Ireland’s Dave Sweeney, who has been helping to coach her with her dad Jim, who first introduced her to throwing in North Cork AC.
“The crowd was really behind the Brazilian girl just ahead of her and it’s incredible for a 16-year-old to perform like that in front of that crowd,” Sweeney said. “She has no nerves. She’s great to coach, good fun and gives me a lot of cheek!” he joked.
The laid-back teenager said she was “amazed” with her medal and was unfazed by the crowd. “They were brilliant. The noise level was definitely something to remember but I wasn’t particularly nervous. I just go out and don’t look at others. I just try and get better myself in every round.”
Her series of 31.71/29.17/27.81/31.08/30.22/31.08m was consistent but it was her first throw, just short of her 32.14m personal, that clinched the bronze.
Gold was out of her reach once defending champion Na Mi of China launched out a massive 37:60 world record in the first round, and Brazil’s Shirlene Coelho overtook Lenihan with 32.55 in the second round and took silver with a 33.91 best.
Lenihan’s bronze completed a great ‘rebel treble’ of medals for Cork’s Paralympic discus throwers as Orla Barry and Niamh McCarthy also took silver in Rio.
Ireland’s final competitor, Kildare wheelchair racer Patrick Monahan, found the searing 32 degree heat around Copacabana Beach too hot to handle in yesterday’s T54 marathon, finishing in 16th place in one hour, 40 minutes and 26 seconds.
That was 10 minutes slower than his Irish record but, considering he’d spent four days in bed with illness in Rio, he did well just to finish as others wilted and dropped out.
“If it was any other marathon I would have dropped out after a lap,” admitted the son of former All-Ireland SFC referee Michael Monahan.
“I had no energy at all, whether it was the heat or the illness last week, I’m not sure, but I was drained. I knew it was going to be tough but I didn’t think it would be that tough. Today I was just happy to get to the finish and proud to get this far in just two years of racing.”
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