“Have you ever met a world champion?” asks Jimmy Keogh, Principal of Coláiste Cholmcille. “I never have,” he quickly replies. “And now we have one walking amongst us every day!”
The enormity of it is only sinking in.
Mona McSharry returned to school this week as that world champion, having taking a first ever gold for Ireland in the World Junior Swimming Championships in Indianapolis, USA on the last weekend of August.
That a small swim club in Ballyshannon has nurtured her talent to become the best in her age group in the world in some achievement.
Yesterday at the Ballyshannon school, Mona, complete with her gold and bronze medals which she won at the World Juniors, was introduced to the entire school by MC for the occasion, Sylvester Maguire.
Mona is presently on a short break from training and Sylvester is very happy about that. “It means I don’t have to get up an unearthly hour to leave my ‘wan’ into the pool.” He is talking about his daughter, Róisín, who is one of Mona’s training partners and it was fitting that Róisín was in Indianapolis to witness Mona’s gold medal performance.
Also there was one of her coaches, Grace Meade, who has been part of the backroom team of the swimmer since 2014 and she is fulsome in her praise of what she has achieved.
“It is an amazing achievement, but nothing more than she deserves because she puts in an incredible effort to her training,” says Grace.
“She is extremely talented, but as I always say talent will get bring you so far, but then it’s about your attitude. She is fully committed.
“It’s great for the school, the town and for the swimming club, for the younger ones coming up behind to know that it is possible.
“Most people think you have to train in the big centres, like Dublin. We have done 95% of the training in Ballyshannon with the support of the Leisure Centre,” says Grace, who says that the 2020 Olympics is her target.
“It can be a very lonely sport. Most of the time you are looking at a black line at the bottom of the pool,” says Grace, who said it was great to be in Indianapolis to be part of the success.
“She will be ready for the 2020 Olympics,” says a confident coach.
And what of the gold medal winner herself. Mona McSharry is pretty cool about it. She seems to take it in her stride.
“It’s amazing, spectacular. There aren’t words to describe that I could have gone that far and achieved so much in one week of racing,” says Mona.
“It was a busy summer. But I’m back at school now. It did fly by. It was basically a summer of training but I’m glad I did it because I have what I want now (gold).”
As regards what is her favourite distance, she says: “I think the 100 breaststroke is my favourite. I like the 50 as well but it can be stressful. It is such a short race, everything has to be perfect. But I like the 100 best,” she says.
“The next couple of years will be tough but medals may not be seen for a couple of years. But making it onto senior teams will be just a great experience,” said Mona.
The plans for the future include completing the Leaving Cert in 2019 and then taking a year out to prepare fully for the Olympics in Tokyo.
“I will look to take a year out to prepare for 2020 and then look at college and maybe a four year cycle for the next Olympics in 2024,” says Mona.
It is truly an amazing story!
Listen to coach Grace Meade talking about her prodigy to Peter Campbell