World Para-swimming European Championships: GB’s Tully Kearney wins gold in Dublin
August 18, 2018
Tully Kearney said she went through the pain barrier to win gold in the S5 100m freestyle at the World Para-swimming European Championships in Dublin.
The 21-year-old Briton was forced to pull out of the Rio Paralympics with a shoulder injury.
It started a deterioration in her neurological condition dystonia and left her battling for her career.
“I’m in pain every day and it hurts to swim, but it is well worth it for this,” she told BBC Sport.
Kearney’s gold was one of six in a 10-medal haul for the Great Britain team on the penultimate day of competition.
Alice Tai and Hannah Russell both won their third gold medals in the S8 100m butterfly and S12 100m freestyle while there was also gold for Jessica Jane Applegate (S14 100m butterfly), Ellie Robinson (S6 50m butterfly) and 15-year-old Toni Shaw in the 400m S9 event.
Kearney, who was born with cerebral palsy, was tipped as a star when she won four golds at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow.
She was diagnosed with dystonia approaching her teens, but the shoulder problem triggered an adverse reaction within her body, starting in her shoulder but spreading throughout her limbs.
‘I was scared to get into the water’
The condition means she has muscle jerking, her left ankle does not move, her right ankle is stuck at 90 degrees and her shoulders are unable to move above shoulder height while she also has issues in her left hand, left arm and neck.
“Having to pull out of Rio was devastating and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to race again,” she said.
“It has been absolutely devastating and nobody knew how bad it would end up being and a lot of people are shocked about how much worse the condition has got so quickly.
“When I got back in the pool about a year and a half ago, I was too scared to get into the water and it has been really difficult learning what my body can do.
“It was very difficult to deal with, but it is nice to be back and the gold makes all the stress worthwhile.”
As well as seeing her body struggling, the Manchester Met University student also had to deal with moving categories within the sport, from being an S10 (the category for the lowest level of physical impairment) to being re-classified as an S5 earlier this year.
Coming to Dublin, she needed to be classified once again and was initially moved to the S6 category where she raced against less-impaired competitors before being confirmed as an S5 again.
It means she missed out on a couple of events where she could have added to her medal tally but after a bronze in the 50m freestyle on Friday and Saturday’s gold, she refuses to be bitter as she aims for next year’s World Championships in Malaysia and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
“Classification is a massive part of Para-sport and it is important that it has done fairly,” she said.
“So even though it is frustrating that I missed out on two events, it is important that everyone is in the right class.
“Due to the nature of my condition and because it is progressive I will have to go through classification again next year and regularly after that.
“I don’t want to mope around feeling sorry for myself and I also want to raise awareness of dystonia.
“It is pretty difficult to think about Tokyo due to the nature of my condition. I’m hoping it is stable and it will stay stable, but I don’t know. I’m just going to take it slowly and see how I go.”