Deirdre Mongan excels at juggling to compete in Rio's Paralympic Games
IT IS tough being an athlete. It is even tougher being a Paralympic athlete. Imagine being a wife, a mother and a wheelchair athlete and holding down a job as well.
Newcastle-based Deirdre Mongan is all those and still manages to win medals on the international stage. She first came to prominence winning a bronze medal in the F53 category Shot Putt at the IPC World Championships in Doha last year.
She originally finished fifth with a best throw of 4.02m but was upgraded to third after the competition when Ukrainian and Bahrain competitors were disqualified for using what was considered to be an illegal throwing action.
"While I was disappointed not to throw closer to my lifetime best of 4.26m achieved earlier this year I really struggled with the heat out there today,” said Deirdre after the medal ceremony, "I just felt exhausted; in those kinds of temperatures my power is really affected.
“We had a long wait on the outcome of the protests so when news came through I was just so thrilled; it's been a long road to get back to this level after having my daughter so to medal is a brilliant feeling.”
Derry man David Sweeney is the Paralympics Ireland national coach for the throws. His work with Deirdre was rewarded with her taking the bronze medal: "I'm delighted for Deirdre,” said the former Sparta athlete.
“She's worked so hard, showed such commitment and dedication to get herself back to be contesting the medals at this level. We, along with the other nations were clear that the action of the two throwers was not that of 'putting' the shot. They were essentially flinging the shot rather than putting it from their body, and the IPC jury agreed to ensure the right result prevailed."
While Deirdre’s bronze medal in Doha may have been problematic, there was nothing controversial about her third place in this year’s Europeans. She was last to throw in an event which saw Russia’s Mariia Bogacheva take gold, and Dimitra Korokida of Greece the runner-up spot.
She booked her place on the podium with a throw of 4.10m but followed this up with throws of 3.84m, 4.14m, 4.23m, 3.96m and 3.87m. That was good enough also to seal her selection for Rio.
“That’s exactly the boost the Irish team needed starting these championships,” said Sweeney.
“Deirdre has set the bar very high with her performance. She is very happy to have performed to that level at a major championships. It’s her first European medal and she finished so close to the silver medallist that her motivation in her preparations for Rio will increase a lot.”
Deirdre has been in a wheelchair since the age of 14 as a result of an accident on a farm. The nature of Mongan's spinal cord injury means that her body is unable to regulate its temperature and prevent overheating in hot conditions.
Deirdre got involved in athletics through wheelchair rugby when she moved to Dublin over a decade ago. The 38-year-old met her husband Steve Donnan four years ago and they bought a house together in Newcastle. They now have a two-year-old daughter Amy Rose.
She is a research officer with the Health Research Board in Dublin but has not worked since May to concentrate on her preparations for Rio: “The thing I enjoy most is competing and actually competing against myself. As an athlete you are always trying to improve on your last throw and it’s great when you see improvement,” concluded Deirdre.
The next few days will tell how well the Galway woman gets on in Rio but if it were a competition in juggling a family life, a job and an athletics career, the gold medal would already be draped around her neck.