Sinead Jennings is about to realise a lifetime dream this month when she competes in this Summer’s Olympic Games, in faraway Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
The Letterkenny native, along with Claire Lambe from Dublin, make up the Irish lightweight doubles rowing team at the Games.
And 16 years and three Olympics after she first burst onto the World rowing scene, she is finally is going to compete at an Olympic Games and will forever be an Olympian.
“It was something that I always dreamed of that one day I would walk out behind the Irish flag at an Olympic Games,” said Sinead, a doctor by profession and mother of three young daughters, Clodagh, Molly and Hannah.
Her husband, Sam Lynch, is a double Olympian. Sam, who is also a doctor, rowed for Ireland at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and in Athens in 2004.
Sinead first made waves on the world rowing scene as far back as 2000 when she won a bronze medal in the single sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Zagreb, Croatia.
She followed that success up the following year at the 2001 World Championships, in Lucerne, Switzerland with a gold medal, also in the lightweight single sculls.
And she completed her world set of medals at the 2008 World Championships in Linz, Austria with a silver medal.
“The single sculls wasn’t an event at the Olympics and while efforts were made to get a partner for the doubles, which is an Olympic event, it did not work out,” she said.
During all this time Sinead first studied for and qualified as a pharmacist and then studied medicine and also married Sam Lynch and began a family.
“I suppose realistically I thought after moving to heavyweight and failing to qualify for Beijing in 2008, the chance was gone.
“I wasn’t able to get to an Olympic qualifying regatta. It was felt I was a lightweight at the time and would not have made the qualification.
“However, I went to the 2008 World Championships, at lightweight, and won silver. But after that I felt like my rowing career was coming to an end and my chance of going to the Olympics was gone.”
She attempted to qualify for London 2012, not in rowing, but in cycling after being contacted by Cycling Ireland who were putting together a women’s team for the London Games.
But the team’s hopes were dashed in the final qualifying event in Kazakhstan. The Irish team needed to finish seventh to make the qualifying standard and they were in fourth when they suffered a puncture.
And while under rules they should have been allowed to start again, they weren’t, which meant the chance of making it to London was gone.
“The organisers read the rules wrong and they apologised to us the next day. But the points were gone and so was our chance to qualify for London.”
Sinead then took a break from sport. She completed her studies and qualified as a doctor and and also gave birth to her second child, Molly.
After the birth of Molly she began running again and within six weeks of returning to training she ran a half marathon in Limerick.
“I did a decent enough time and somehow Rowing Ireland got wind of it.
“Don MacLachlan from New Zealand had just been appointed head coach at Rowing Ireland and he was looking to get some girls together.
“Don came to visit me in Limerick, where we were living at the time, and I had to tell him that I was pregnant.
“I had six months maternity leave and I just decided I would train properly during that time. Hannah was an easy pregnancy and I was back training three days after she was born.
“That was the end of June, 2014, and Rowing Ireland were holding the first of a number of Olympic trials in October.
“I trained really hard and won the trial and I won a second trial in December.
“Unfortunately, I suffered a rib injury in a freak accident when I got hit by a truck door in the side which was the last thing I needed with qualification for Rio so close.”
But Sinead recovered and was paired with Claire Lambe and ten weeks after they first teamed up, they were competing at the World Championships in Aiguebelette in France. That was last September. They missed out on automatic qualification when they failed to make the final at the championship.
However, all was not lost and a third place finish in the B final behind the Chinese and Polish crews secured the ticket to Rio.
“I suppose the initial feeling was one of relief that we had qualified but the overwhelming feeling was one of sheer joy.”
Sinead and her husband, Sam, have made huge sacrifices in recent years to achieve her Olympic dream.
Sinead, who is 39, is on a career break and effectively has put her career as a doctor on hold to concentrate on her Olympic preparations.
This decision has also come at a huge financial cost too.
The family moved from Limerick to Cork to accommodate her training regime at the National Rowing Training Centre in Cork.
Last month just before Sinead headed off to the North of Spain for a final training camp before setting out to Rio, the family moved back to Limerick.
“Sam has always been very supportive. He never gave up the dream for me, maybe when I had done myself. He just kept encouraging me to get back rowing. I think once myself and Claire got together he could see potential.”
Sinead has not been a fully carded athlete in recent years and has only been partly funded .
“I only received €4,500 last year, though thankfully I will receive the full grant this year though it only dates back to the start of April. But it is a big help financially.”
Now that the Olympic dream has been realised what is the goal for Rio and the 2016 Olympic Games?
“The goal is to make the final and if we make the final anything can happen after that, hopefully be in the top three and medal.”
And don’t rule it out.
Sinead is the second member of her family to become an Olympian. Her sister Caitriona ran in the Marathon in London 2012.
There are 22 crews competing in the women’s lightweight sculls in Rio.
The rowing takes place Lagoa Stadium on Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janeiro.
The first heats are on Sunday August 7th, with the semi-finals on Wednesday August 10th and the final on Friday August 13th.