It’s a sign of how far Ellen Walshe has come that the Dublin swimmer looks utterly unimpressed as she reflects on the two NCAA finals she reached in March.
It was even more embarrassing,” she says of her eighth-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly and 400-yard individual lie (IM) in her freshman year at the University of Tennessee. “I know I’m better, but I couldn’t prove it.”
The reason was simple. A month earlier, Walshe had flown and won seven medals (four of them gold) at the Southeastern Conference Championships. But shortly thereafter, she contracted an infection that drained her of energy before the NCAAs.
“I just fell, fell on my ass, it sucked,” she says. “I had to take an extended break and listen to my body after the SECs, but I didn’t, so I paid the price. It’s been a tough time. When your body is in top-level sport, it’s hard to take a break, but I finally made it.”
The NCAA Championships made global headlines due to the presence of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who won gold in the women’s 500-meter freestyle, but Walshe and her teammates did their best to block out the noise.
“Our team had our goal and we didn’t let that distract us,” she says. “That was a win for us.”
After completing her freshman year, Walshe has been back home in Dublin for the past two weeks and has teamed up with longtime trainer Brian Sweeney at Templeogue Swim Club. It was Sweeney who first encouraged her to seek opportunities in the US, and Walshe decided to bring her talents to the same institution that launched the careers of Irish Olympians Barry Murphy and Andrew Bree. Tennessee was also where Sligo star Mona McSharry relocated to in 2020, and Walshe joined her last year just after the couple competed in the Tokyo Olympics.
“It was definitely a shock at first,” she says of the culture. “But it’s nice to be a part of it; it changes who you are.”
Her exercise routine is rigorous, with nine swims and three gym sessions per week, and little time or energy for social life. But that’s been the routine for many years for Walshe, who was a silver medalist at the 2015 European Youth Olympiads and a gold medalist at the 2017 World School Games.
She made her first big impression at senior level last December, winning a superb silver in the 400 IM at the World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi. “I wasn’t expecting the medal at all, but it was really nice to win one and boost my confidence,” she says.
She will bypass next month’s World Championships in Budapest to continue preparations for August’s European Championships in Rome, where she hopes to reach a final in the 200 IM. Lately, with her health restored, she’s been training harder than ever, and her time in Tennessee reinforces her belief in her abilities.
“It’s a super competitive group of girls and every day there’s a competition in the pool,” she says. “They really push you.” And her attitude in practice is exactly what gets her going on race day: “I don’t like to lose.”
Ellen Walshe spoke at the launch of Swim Ireland’s new pop-up pool and participation strategy 2022-2026
https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/swimming/the-infection-just-made-me-fall-on-my-ass-ellen-walshe-41632700.html “The infection just made me fall on my bum” – Ellen Walshe