“I was shy but now I’m not,” says the 22-year-old, who lives in Muckross, Killarney.
Her success as an athlete has given her focus and the will to win. In the National Games in Belfast in 2006, she won gold in gymnastics and in Limerick in 2010, she won silver for the shot putt.
The next National Games start next week, on Thursday June 12, and once again Emma will be competing in Limerick. She also has ambitions to be on the Irish team for the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angles next year.
Has she ever experienced any nerves in front of the large crowds? “I do feel nervous. But I have my own technique. I build up my confidence and put all my strength in it and then I do it,” says Emma, who has Down Syndrome.
A love of sport now underpins her life. Twice a week she trains in a local gym, she also goes swimming — taking in aqua fit classes along the way — and enjoys trampolining.
She also watches her diet. “I have fruit every night before I go to bed. And I try to eat more fish than meat.”
It’s very much a family affair — her dad, Johnny, is a coach with the Kerry Stars Special Olympics club and her brother, Denis, has been involved professionally with Special Olympics in Ireland and internationally since 2001.
On the horizon is the National Sport and Adventure Centre in Killarney, a planned home for the Kerry Stars. Based on the idea of social inclusion, once planning permission is granted, it will be a specially adapted, integrated sporting and adventure centre for people with and without disabilities.
Importantly, it will also provide training and employment for those with disabilities.
“All of this is amazing. I can’t wait to hang out at the centre’” says Emma, who as ambassador is “the face and the voice” of the project. Currently studying a skills for life programme at Tralee IT, her long-term aim is to live independently. But first there are some economic considerations.
“I believe people with special needs have lots of talents and we can work in a job that pays money — just let us have a chance,” she says.
* The NSAC/Kerry Stars Special Olympics Club is one of the nine beneficiaries of the Ring of Kerry Cycle, on July 5. See www.ringofkerrycycle.ie.