Rowing

The Big Strong Role Models Behind The Rowing Four Finalists

Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty are tipped to be amongst medal contention when they get their Olympic final underway tomorrow morning at 1:50am Irish time.

The quartet showed what they were made of this year on several occasions, putting it up to reigning European Champions The Netherlands back in April and even crossing the line just 0.23 of a second behind favourites for the Olympic event, Australia, in the heats earlier this week.

The “Big Strong Gorls” may be a part of the largest crew Rowing Ireland have ever sent to an Olympics, but there is much more to their team dynamic than just positions on the podium.

Watch the full pre-Olympics interview with the latest bronze medallists above. Subscribe to Her Sport’s YouTube channel for more videos, follow us on Instagram, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for the latest sporting news and content.

“I think sometimes people put a lot of emphasis on the Olympics and, you know, as cheesy as it might sound it is all about the journey too” says Keogh.

“We are so excited to get out there and racing, but you know, so far we have had an amazing year as well, so we’d like to be thankful for that too, as well as hopefully the experience that’s going to come.”

While she presents the thought that the group are “process focused”, the expectation that lay on them to qualify didn’t ever appear startling to the 28-year-old and her teammates as they just chose to “have confidence” in both the anticipation and their abilities.

“I suppose there was a reason why everyone thought we were going to qualify. We were going fast and we were getting the good times in trainings,” she says.

“We knew we were more than capable…it was just about actually getting the job done.”

Ireland Rowing Four

As the boats are picked based on consistent testing of combinations and tactics amid the wider crew before time trials make the ultimate determination, there was no guarantee that the group were going to gel as well as they have, but the team admit they have become more than “quite close” during their quest for glory.

Even the experiences that we’ve all gone through together to coming up to qualifiers…the pressure of qualifying and also the joy of it. Going through those kind of lifetime experiences together, I think really bonds us” says Lambe.

“We’re so lucky though as well because whoever ended up in that four it would have been fast” adds Hegarty.

“The margins were so tight between us all as well so it’s definitely a group effort for every boat that’s out there. Every other girl is contributing to the speed.”

Open about the devastation and cruel nature of sport for those who don’t get to make the expedition to Tokyo, the group are sincerely thankful for the efforts of all involved in progressing them to the heights they have now reached.

“We probably had three or four other girls that didn’t make a boat and if it wasn’t for them pushing us every day in the competition for seats, we wouldn’t be where we are today” comments Aifric.

“We do have Tara, she’s our reserve so she’s traveling with us and we’re really lucky to have her as well.

“That is a really tough job for her to watch us, you know, when we’re preparing, focused and motivated at the task at hand. I’m sure for her some days it is hard to go out and to do the training, but you’d never notice that with her, she’s always in such a good mood and she really lifts the spirit of the team.”

“Unfortunately, it’s sport and not everyone makes it. I’m sure for people like Tara it will only make her stronger and the next Games are only three years away so it definitely will stand to her in comparison.”

Role models both in and out of the water these inspiring women aren’t afraid to challenge societal norms and make a splash when it comes to dismantling body image bias.

Setting up an Instagram account to do just that and also to showcase the benefits of sport at any level the heavyweight rowers have gained quite a following in what originated as a hobby.

“We were basically on our way to camp one day and we were like, ‘What are we going to do to entertain ourselves and distract from all the training?!’ We decided to set up an Instagram page and originally it was just meant to be something fun for all of us to do like a bit of a distraction,” says Eimear.

“When we were younger the coaches would be like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s a big strong girl, she’s going to be good at the rowing because she’s big.”

“Back then you don’t know that’s a positive, as in that’s what you want in a sport. You want to be there; you want to be strong.”

“In some media and especially on Instagram and everything these days they can shed such a negative light on it…I suppose we didn’t really realise what we were creating when we started doing it. It’s been amazing.”

In the gym up to three times a week themselves, the crew believe it is important to continue the exemplar of “not shying away” from fitness and being at your peak.

“Strength and conditioning are very important. Even just from a rehab point of view to avoid injury while you’re out on the water” says Murtagh.

“I think it’s good that it’s made visible that there are a group of senior women rowing out of the country” remarks Keogh.

“When we were growing up we didn’t have anyone really to look up to. There wasn’t a group of heavyweight women rowing so I think now for juniors coming up its something for them to, I suppose, aspire to.”

While many of those youngsters may be asleep when the team are in action in the early hours of tomorrow morning, there is no doubt their ripple effect of idolism and positivity will trinkle down to both girls and boys throughout the country whatever the outcome may be.

Alanna Cunnane

Alanna Cunnane is currently pursuing her studies in journalism and is an avid women in sport advocate, with a keen interest in all sports. Alanna writes for her local paper in Sligo and also reports for Ocean FM radio. Instagram: @acunnane | Twitter: @:ACunnane10 |

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