Helen Kearney (grade 1a) was a key member of Ireland’s London 2012 dream team, helping her nation pip the bronze medal in the team event, and collecting two individual bronze medals too. Although ranked 27th in the world, Kearney could surprise at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Paralympic.org: How did you get into your sport?
Helen Kearney (HK): I started riding when I was 10 or 11 and, when I was 13, I was diagnosed with my condition so my mum got me a pony. In 2008 I turned to Para dressage and it all grew from there.
What does it mean to you personally to represent Ireland at Rio 2016?
HK: It’s great. It’s been an amazing experience. When I was diagnosed it was never something I thought I would be doing. It’s a wonderful feeling and pretty cool.
What would it mean to you personally if you won a gold medal in Rio?
HK: It would be a dream come true … I think we can be competitive but whether we can be in the medals again I’m not sure, but we’ll give it a good shot. Winning a medal would be the icing on the cake but look at the cake – it’s still pretty nice right?
If you had to pick five words to describe yourself what would they be?
HK: I’d like to think I’m focused, strategic and pretty determined to keep going. I’m struggling for more though.
Who do you see as your biggest rivals in Rio?
HK: There are quite a few. Sophie Christiansen and Anne Dunham from Great Britain are obvious contenders and there’s Sara Morganti from Italy too. The Brazilian rider -Sergio Oliva has also been very strong. Sometimes you just don’t know ‘till you get out there. I could find more.
Do you have any superstitions or routines which you go through when competing?
HK: Not really.
What advice would you give any riders starting out in your sport?
HK: You have to keep going but you have to be patient. It takes a while to get the horses going correctly but, once you do, it’s amazing what you can do, but you really have to be patient.
If you could pick one thing about your sport what do you most enjoy?
HK: I love working with the horse at home. When you’ve learned something new or taught them something new it’s a great achievement to see them progress. It’s really cool and I really enjoy it.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or not, who would that be?
HK: I really can’t think – I don’t really have one person. The more I’ve trained and the more I’ve done I’ve realised you can learn something from everybody.
Who is your biggest inspiration in life?
HK: My mum and dad have always been there and helped me pursue the horses. They were never into horses at all but I decided it was something I wanted to do and they decided to support me in any way they could. I guess when you have a disabled child you don’t always think ‘let’s buy her a big horse’ – it’s almost counter intuitive, but they never once said ‘we’re not doing that.’
Para equestrian competition at Rio 2016 begins 11 September, with medal events taking place 13-16 September, at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.
Visa International is the exclusive payment card and the official payment system for the Paralympic Games.