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Interview: Rio the dream for rowing star Leonora

leonora kennedy-3
IT WAS Walt Disney who once said that ‘our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.’

If only it was as easy as all that. Sports people know there is no such guarantee. They do of course generously mix courage, hard work, commitment and sacrifice while there are probably no greater dreamers than those who perform on the elite stage but they also know there is no sentiment along the path they strive.

Sport can be cruel yet the desire to surpass limitations and realise dreams inspires people to devote their lives to their sporting ambition.

One Fermanagh woman doing just that is Leonora Kennedy. The 26 year old rower has her sights set on the five rings and the Olympics of Rio 2016.

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“The Olympics are the dream,” she explained.

Speaking between training sessions from the Irish Rowing Centre in Cork Leonora explained how she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, Iain, who rowed for Ireland in the Olympics.

“It would be brilliant if I could do what he did. In fact I would love to go one better. The ultimate aim is to medal at the Olympics.”

Mr Disney would certainly approve of such shooting for the stars. On the face of it Leonora’s ambition may seem lofty. No woman from Northern Ireland has ever rowed for Ireland at the Olympics and only two woman have ever represented Ireland at that level. But then there have also been signs of something special happening in Irish rowing. In 2013 Kennedy and her partner Monika Dukarska finished 10th in the Double Skull at the World Championships, the best ever performance by an Irish and there is plenty of evidence that there is more to come;

“Myself and Monika were only together for two months before the event and during that time Monika had to go an compete in another event so we can definitely improve,” The Fermanagh woman revealed before adding that it would be ‘pretty cool’ to be the first woman from this part of the world to compete at the Olympics.
At the moment Kennedy is a full time athlete while she is also pursuing research at the University College Cork.

“I am very interested in public health promotion and I’m lucky to be able to do this while I’m training but it leads to a pretty hectic schedule,” she said.

Indeed that schedule is hectic enough even without the research. Training as a full time athlete may seem like the perfect life but the reality is that it is hard work.

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Kennedy trains six days a week fitting in 13 to 14 sessions in that time. She can be on the water for up to two hours at a time while there are also weight sessions and work on the stationary bike, and all that before you take into account the mental preparation that is needed to compete at the top level. But the time, energy and dedication is something that Kennedy is only to glad to give.

“You have to put the miles in. You have to have the miles done and there is a lot of commitment. Somebody said that it is 90% preparation and 10% racing. You need the preparation to give you the edge,” she explained.

The Fermanagh girl has received a grant from Dale Farm and the Mary Peters Trust and in January is hoping for further funding either through the Sports Council of Northern Ireland or the Irish Sports Council.

For now though Leonora is just determined to work hard and ensure that she cements her place on the plane to Rio.

At the moment she and Dukarska are in pole position to claim that double skull as their own but they know that they have to maintain the standards.

“Of course something like an injury can come along and throw you off course but I just want to make sure that I keep doing the miles and keep putting the work in. I love to row with other people and with the team being so small they like to get crews sorted and stick with them so hopefully we can improve from the World Championships,” she explained.

2016 may seem a long time in the future for some but for this Fermanagh lady it is a year already etched into the psyche. Yes, there are big events before then and there are hurdles to clear and goals to achieve but the boat, quite literally in this case, is pointed for Brazil.

And who knows in three years time Leonora may reach for another Disney quote to describe her performances; “It is kind of fun to do the impossible.”

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