On Thursday, September 8th Greta Streimikyte sent shockwaves throughout Ireland when she set a new personal best and national record for the 1,500m long-distance sprint at the event final in this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio.
She would go on to finish fourth in the event finals in Brazil, shaving four more seconds off her personal best to return to Ireland a national heroine. Born in Lithuania, the 21-year-old International Relations student in DCU moved to Ireland six years ago and admits she is now immensely proud to call it her home.
“I love Ireland,” she says.
“I was so happy and am so happy to represent Ireland. I am grateful to Ireland for accepting me. It’s an amazing country. I love university here, I love the people, I love the culture.
“That’s why I find it so important to represent Ireland, it was so important for me to get that citizenship. I love Lithuania, it will always be the country where I was born. That’s who I am and I will always remember that, but now my home is Ireland.”
Only beginning racing after arriving in Ireland as a teenager under the advice of her Physical Education teacher in school, she says that sport had always played an important role in her family home growing up.
Born prematurely, her impairment, known as retinopathy, means she cannot see out of her right eye due to damaged caused to the retina after being kept in an incubator. But she conveys that she had no awareness of her impairment growing up as a child.
“I was really lucky because I was born into a family where I could do anything that I wanted to do. With my brother and my sister, I am a triplet so I did everything that they did. I was never limited as a child and I was really lucky because of that. When you are a child you don’t think about these things.”
Making her first appearance for the Irish Para-Athletes team in June of this year, she won bronze at the 2016 Para-Athletics European Championships in Grosseto, Italy for the 1,500m at a time of 4:50.58.
Rio saw her finish at 4:45.06, while on her record-breaking finish she concedes that in the rush of adrenaline following the race, she did not realise the heights of her historic accomplishments.
“Honestly, I didn’t realise it was a record until looking at the media. I switched my phone off for four days so I didn’t really realise it, because at that time it was all about the race and I didn’t really care about anything else. But even afterwards, when I finished my race, you are in shock.”
She adds that she and her running guide Eimear O’Brien cemented a goal four years ago to reach the games in Rio, despite not being in possession of an Irish passport at the time.
“Getting the passport was a really big deal for me because it meant that if I was taking the Irish citizenship that I was losing my Lithuanian one.
“It was a big decision to make and that’s why it was a bigger deal for me to go to the Paralympic Games representing Ireland as an Irish citizen.”
She now returns to college, studying International Relations, always planning the next success in athletics, with Tokyo in 2020 an ever-present thought.
“For me, I am saying to myself, if I did this then I can do more. With sports, it never ends: you always want to do more and more and more. There are no limits.”
Image credit: Clara Hickey