Trish Kearney’s childhood and Olympic hopes were shattered when swim coach, George Gibney, began abusing her.
Her autobiography, Above Water, tells the story of how her idyllic childhood was cruelly disrupted when the internationally recognised swimming coach, George Gibney, began abusing her when she was 13.
At the age of 19, Trish, who now lives in Carrigaline, left her Olympic dream, and Gibney, behind and moved on.
Trish’s suppressed memories resurfaced after the birth of her first child and after a subsequent failed court case, before Gibney’s exposure in the press as a paedophile.
Trish’s extraordinary book details how she buried the trauma and then learned to breathe again.
Trish is delighted with the memoir, which was initially intended for her children to learn more about her horrendous experience.
“It was written as a document for my children about my childhood,” Trish said.
“From an external point of view, I am only telling my story. I would like people to have an insight into the world of what it is to be controlled in that manner.
“I knew I had an extraordinary story. For me, my story is my life. I wanted my kids to know my story. I thought I will write it and if I die, they will come upon it. I then got a bit more ambitious and figured I would write a book,” Trish said.
“My family is so proud. It was, however, very difficult to send the book to my family. It made them sad, but their reaction was amazing.”
Trish said she never contemplated confiding in any of her friends and family when she was being repeatedly abused.
She has no regrets about this, as 1980s Ireland was a very different society.
“It never occurred to me,” Trish said. “My brother did wonder how they all missed it. I was completely normal at home, because he couldn’t get to me there. My ability to forget worked very much in my favour.
“The 1980s was a different world,” Trish said. “There were no clerical-abuse stories at that time; nobody even knew that there was such a thing as sexual abuse. It was there, but nobody was aware.
“I was resigned to this fate. That was part of his control. Today, there are people of all age groups who are living with controlling personalities and dealing with abusive people. They have a front door, windows, and a phone, but none of them are asking for help and they are adults.
“It was never a thought for me. People don’t believe they can get away. So, for me, as a child, I was never going to tell anyone.”
Trish, a native of Dublin, has been living in Cork for the last 30 years.
“I will always be a Dub, but I never want to leave here,” Trish said. “I have made friends you couldn’t bottle. They are the people who have made me better.
“I think people assume that writing this book has healed me. I think, by the time I got to write this book, I was healed. I was 25 years after the process. I have talked it through and lived it over that period of time.
“Even small things, like the acceptance that it is in your life for ever.
“You live alongside it. I don’t carry it. I accept we co-exist. There are days when I have a moment and get a flashback. I am very comfortable living with them, however. I know they are going to come and go. Living with abuse is a daily thing. It is how you process that.”
Trish wants abuse victims to learn from her experience and to gain hope that they, too, will learn to breathe again.
“People have very little hope for survivors of sexual abuse,” Trish said.
“They don’t feel there is a recovery. I would love for people to have hope. We live every day with hope.
“I am very proud of my scars. The actual physical abuse has not lingered in my head. They were not the worse things he did.
“The worst thing he did was he took away my life and my childhood. He took away my friends. He took my family, in a sense.”
Following the release of a podcast last year, Where Is George Gibney?, which traced the disgraced former swimming coach to Florida, Trish said she would support her fellow victims if Gibney had to stand trial in Ireland again, but she is glad he is exiled so far away.
“It hurt desperately that justice wasn’t done and he wasn’t convicted,” Trish said.
“Because we were anonymous, at that stage, we were always called ‘liars’. That was very hard to take.
“When I came to terms with him not being tried, I was OK with him being gone. I made an active choice not to hate Gibney. He doesn’t come on my radar. I love the fact that he lives in Florida and I don’t see him.
“I don’t have to worry about meeting him with my children.”
Trish credits her husband, Eamonn, with being her ‘rock’. She gradually told her children about the abuse.
“Eamonn is a man of few words, but his words always work,” Trish said. “He brings such joy into my life. My whole family has been so supportive. My kids were aware of it gradually over the years. I did it in a non-dramatic way. They are very proud.”
In the book, Trish recalls telling her late mother for the first time about the abuse. The encounter didn’t go to plan and their relationship wasn’t as strong for a few years.
Trish said she is thrilled they rebuilt their relationship.
“We never discussed it as such, but I knew she was supporting me,” Trish said. “She became very proud that I survived abuse. She wanted me to write the book. She was so empowering.
“The best tribute I can give to my parents is me being well. I know they are proud of me.”
Trish is similar to her late mother, Agnes, in the sense that she is so strong. She is a real inspiration to abuse victims. She is content and proud to be in such a strong place.
“I take it day by day. I register every day how good I am. I have a lot to be thankful for,” Trish said.