NIAMH McCarthy added another medal to her trophy cabinet on a great week for Irish Para Athletics at the European Championships recently as she claimed a second gold medal for Team Ireland in Bydgoszcz in Poland.
The win sees Niamh named as one of our Echo Women in Sport award winners for the Spring and Summer.
Niamh went into the final of the F41 Discus event as the defending champion and outright favourite to defend her crown and she did not disappoint.
Despite a long wait for a major championship McCarthy was able to produce a season’s best throw of 30.03m to win the gold medal in emphatic fashion.
Like lots of athletes, she showed some rustiness with her first effort, recording a 10.45m throw, but on her second throw, she reached 27.96m, one that would have secured the gold for her.
However, the best was yet to come as the Cork star threw her season’s best on her third effort to secure the win.
Speaking after the event, Niamh said: “It’s a good starting base I suppose really. My competition is quite intense internationally so there weren’t too many behind me and I know in Tokyo there will be but I know what I’m doing right now is working quite well so I just need to keep at it.”
Niamh took up Para athletics in 2012 and began competing the following year and has a friend of her mum's to thank for getting her started on the road to success she has enjoyed since.
She was introduced to the sport at a talent search day at UCD.
“A friend of my mother's suggested to her that I go to the Paralympic Ireland Talent ID day in October 2012. I went along and tried a few sports knowing nothing about the Paralympics and was contacted a few weeks later to go for further testing and classification which led to me being put on the Fast Track Developmental Panel in late 2012,” said Niamh, and as they say the rest is history.
In 2016 she received the Outstanding Games Debut Performance Award from Paralympics Ireland in recognition of her silver medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The Paralympic discus thrower has become one of the best in the world in her discipline, the F41 category, having medalled at European, World, and Paralympic levels, across her eight-year career.
McCarthy’s ultimate goal remains the Tokyo Games. Despite the pandemic throwing the 2020 sporting calendar into disarray, she is determined to take the positives from the situation.
Most of all, it gave her an opportunity to get to where she wants to be, if she’s to match the level of form she displayed when winning a medal at the summer games in Rio, or when she smashed the European record two years’ later.
She’s not looking too far ahead, mind, but the 2019 World bronze medal winner certainly doesn’t lack the motivation ahead of the Games.
“It’s a bit weird. It wasn't a short little deferral, it was an entire year. But personally, I was thankful for the extra time to prepare.
“I’m at this for eight or nine years maybe. There have been good years and bad years. I had an injury year in 2017, so that was really difficult.
“You’ve been through the ups and downs and you know more about what can happen. Training solo during lockdown was very intense. But I used that as an opportunity just to stray fit and healthy.
“Having a concrete goal and trying to be the best I possibly can be is the plan now. Hopefully, when Tokyo rolls around shortly I will be in a good place,” McCarthy said.
Asked about the highlight so far, she doesn’t cast any doubt; throwing her way to silver at the 2016 Summer Games.
“I think the highlight kind of has to be Rio, my first Paralympics. I really didn’t know what I was in for. It was my third year of international competition and I went into it with very little expectation, as I was a newcomer.
“Just the atmosphere of the village and everything. It’s not something you prepare for. It is just immense.
“It was a very good Games for me. The competition was tough. Thankfully, I dug deep and was able to pull out a throw that put me in second place and kept me there.”
Away from the world of competing Niamh loves to skydive and began skydiving at age 18, and had completed more than 85 jumps by 2016 and now has done more than 100.
“I always wanted to do a jump. My dear father paid for a skydive for my 18th birthday. I ended up doing a solo jump and that was me hooked.
“I’ve done over 100 solo jumps at this point now. I don’t jump as much as I used to, only after the end of a season.”
With her never-say-die attitude, there is no doubt Niamh will be adding another medal to her European one in a couple of weeks.