Queen Maeve reigns despite missing medal

THE Irish swimmer who stole the show at the Opening Ceremony with an impromptu rendering of “The Fields of Athenry” yesterday illustrated her capacity to thrill and delight by leading the parade of champions on a memorable day of competition in the National Aquatic Centre.

Nineteen-years-old Maeve Phillips was beaten to a medal by the width of a fingernail but her bubbling good humour was powerfully evident as she celebrated her fourth place afterwards with family, friends and coaches.

Maeve shocked the organisers when she took the microphone from Des Cahill at Croke Park and extended the programme by treating an audience of millions to her favourite song. On a day when Ireland's swimmers succeeded in winning three gold medals, her joy and spirit of fun was beautifully evident.

Her quiet-spoken father, Pat Phillips, said "I'm delighted with Maeve, she swam to her potential. We are disappointed in a way she didn't get a medal for herself but she swam terrifically and when you perform to the best of your ability you cannot expect anybody to do anymore.

"Maeve's young, she's only 19 years of age and to have come so far she is terrific, we think the world of her."

Pat came originally from Kilkelly, Co. Mayo; his wife, Breege, from "lovely Achill Island". They've lived for thirty years in Luca "But I haven't lost the Mayo accent" said Pat proudly.

Maeve is the youngest of six children Sinead, Steve, Paddy, Ronan and Ciaran.

Maeve started swimming when she was about four and she was trained in Raphael's in Co. Kildare and her coach there is Deirdre Moran.

"Swimming is fantastic for Maeve" said her proud father, "she sang the "Fields of Athenry" she took the mike off Des Cahill and sang the fields of Athenry. She's known all over the place and I'm disappointed for her she didn't win a medal but it's been a fantastic journey and we've had a ball."

So what have Special Olympics done for Pat, Breege and their family ? "Special Olympics means everybody, no matter what the degree of disability, can get out there and perform to the best of their ability and enjoy themselves along the way" said Pat.

Proof positive that S.O. athletes have the power to inspire was once again evident when fourteen years old Sarah Carroll swam into the gold medal position in her category of the 25m backstroke.

"I'm delighted" she said proudly as she showed her huge gold medal to her family, friends and coaches, "it is a great day for me. I'm so thrilled."

Sean Roche has been working with Sarah for the past two years in the Vikings Swimming Club, Templeogue. A former competitor himself, he cheerfully admitted that nothing he had ever achieved in his youth compared to the joy he felt at sharing in Sarah's achievement.

He said: "We coach a group of special needs swimmers in Templeogue. The Vikings Club is for special needs people and we cover everything from Down's Syndrome to Autism to slow learners; you name it we do it."

Sean struggled to control his emotion as Sarah threw her arms around his neck in delight and later he said: "How do you follow this ? How can we follow this ? "Inter-Galactics ? Bring them on, bring them on."

Sean insisted that I referred to Timmy Reilly for his work and commitment in the Viking Club and he added: "I've been working with Vikings along with Albert Byrne, my sister Regina Curley, some of my family and some members of the Tallaght swimming team who have given us a hand-out on occasions."

And how had Sarah's achievement provided inspiration "I'm a former competitor and after this I'm heading back in next year. I'm looking forward to it. But I'm gobsmacked by this.

"We were hoping at the start of the race today that Sarah would just swim the race and not be disqualified and this has gone away beyond anything we could have imagined."

Sarah's mother Margaret positively glowed with pride and joy in her young daughter's achievement and she said: "It's unbelievable, we can't believe it because in her prelims yesterday she improved by fifteen seconds and I thought that she was really up against it. She was moved up a category and I thought things were going to be really difficult for her."

Sarah is one of four children Julie, who is 26, Sean (23) and Paul (20). They live in Portobello in Dublin.

Margaret, her eyes shining and her smile adding further lustre to a glorious day, hugged her tiny daughter tightly and said: "Special Olympics has meant so much to our whole family, particularly to Sarah and to me because she has made loads of friends."

Ireland's other gold medal winners were Leonard McEvoy, in the 25m backstroke, and Thomas Ryan, from Co. Tipperary, in the 800m freestyle.

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