Kathleen Noble’s Olympic Games story with Uganda

SURREAL as it may seem, the Ugandan Olympic team will have a Fermanagh connection at Paris 2024 this summer.
Kathleen Noble is Uganda’s first – and so far only – Olympic rower. She is also Uganda’s first and only white Olympian in any sport after she competed in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
It’s one thing to be remembered as a unique figure in the Olympic history of her country, it’s quite another to do so while having close family ties to the Erne county.
Kathleen is the daughter of Gerry and Moira Noble, Irish missionaries who moved to Uganda in the 1990s. Gerry is a doctor from Enniskillen and Moira is a teacher from Monaghan.
For more than 40 years her grandparents, Derick and Elma Noble have run Lackaboy House Bed and Breakfast on the Old Tempo Road in Enniskillen. Her grandparents live in the county town along with other extended family members.
“My nana is still running the B&B although she is in her 70s. We would spend our summers in Ireland split between my dad’s family in Fermanagh and my mother’s family in Monaghan,” Kathleen explained.
“We’d go back for two months in the summer holidays as I was growing up. We would be in both places visiting my grandparents and various other members of the family.
“I remember going to the Lakeland Forum and playing squash there with my parents. When I was younger I’d play in the play park near it as well. Other times we would walk around the charity shops in town.
“We’d go for walks around Castle Coole, which is beautiful, and hillwalking up Topped Mountain.
“The last time I was back was in the summer of 2022 to see all my relatives.”
Kathleen was born in 1994 in a village three hours from Kampala. She grew up with aspirations of swimming in the Olympics and represented Uganda at the World Championships in Turkey when she was just 17 years old.
She went to the prestigious Princeton University in the US on an international scholarship and only took up rowing as a pastime. Before long she had won a spot on the varsity rowing team.
By 2016, she was rowing for Uganda in the World Under-23 World Championships. It led to the Ugandan rowing coach eventually asking her to take part in the Olympic qualifiers and the rest is history.
Uganda is a country of almost 50 million people and the first time they realised that a white woman was representing them at the Tokyo Olympics was at the opening ceremony when Kathleen walked out into the empty stadium – the event took place during Covid – with the country’s small group of athletes.
In the competition itself, she came fifth in her women’s single sculls heat and then took her place in the repechage where she missed out on the quarter-finals by one place. Her final ranking was 26th out of the 32 competitors taking part.

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