MONA McSharry can remember the day it became ‘real’.
A nondescript swimming competition in Lisburn seemed just like any other.
McSharry, though, was the only participant from the Marlin’s Swimming Club in Ballyshannon to venture to County Antrim.
And, yet, it was the day the future Olympian felt her calling.
She ‘scraped’ into the final, but then it happened.
“Four of us touched the wall together,” she remembered. “I actual won. It all became real.”
Until that moment, McSharry was just like any other.
Soon, though, it became apparent that Mona McSharry had stardust.
“She didn’t stand out,” her coach at Marlin’s Swimming Club, Grace Meade, says.
“Over time she developed into a fabulous breaststroker. She is very determined with a great mindset and attitude.”
This morning, at around 11.45am Irish time, McSharry will leap into the water at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, going in lane 6 of heat 5 in the women’s 100m breaststroke at the Olympic Games.
“I have great belief in Mona,” Meade says. I’m very proud of her. She’ll do exceptionally well.
“I expect her to get to the semi-finals and she could sneak into the final with a PB.”
McSharry almost made it to Rio in 2016 when, aged just 15, she was just .9 of a second off the qualifying time.
Meade said: “We weren’t targeting it – I think Mona was in her head. But she didn’t make it and was gutted. In the first year of her next season, she just shaved a second off that time in a few weeks.”
McSharry was the 100m breaststroke gold medalist at the 2017 World Junior Championships in Indianapolis. She beat off Canadian Faith Knelson and America’s Zoe Bartel for gold in what was a new Irish record of 1:07.10.
“I wasn’t a million miles off, but I suppose I wasn’t super-close either. It was one of those things, if I had hit it, I’d have gone obviously, but we weren’t aiming for Rio. I wasn’t close enough and it probably worked out better that I didn’t go. I was able to get to go into those Junior Championships and competitions and I didn’t get too far ahead too quickly.
“I was pretty devastated at the trials at the time, mind you. I thought I could get it, but looking back I was only 15. If I had gone to Rio, the Juniors wouldn’t have been the main focus anymore and it would have changed a lot for me.”
The onset of Covid-19 last March looked to have pulled the rug on McSharry’s Olympic dream again.
But lockdown didn’t deter the Grange native.
Having trained eight times a week, the Level 5 lockdown and the closure of amenities such as swimming pools meant that McSharry had to be inventive.
She was the swimmer who couldn’t swim.
Her life was changing rapidly with a scholarship to the University of Tennessee looming last summer.
At that stage, the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris were the aim.
“It was upsetting when I heard they were being postponed,” she said in the summer of 2020.
“I felt they were so close. But, the year could benefit me. I’ll look at the positives and I should be stronger and faster by the time they do come around.”
McSharry’s swimming career began by accident, literally, rather than design. As a child, she fell into an Austrain pool, an experience that was frightening enough to vow, there and then, that Mona would learn to swim. Viola, her mother, is a German and a former volleyball player.
An eight-year-old Mona McSharry joined Marlin’s Swimming Club – and the journey to the Olympics was beginning.
The 4.30am alarm calls became a part of the daily routine.
Meade says: “You’d watch her in the water and think ‘God, how far can she really go?’ And we still think: ‘Wow’.”
At the Irish National Team Trials at the National Aquatic Centre in April, McSharry broke her own Irish record to finish her heat in 1:06.97 and seal qualification for the Olympics. Although she missed the qualifying time for the 200m breaststroke, McSharry will also compete in that event in Tokyo having claimed one of the five available places.
In America this year, McSharry – who was also a bronze medalist at the 2019 European Short Course Championships – broke the school record in the 200m breaststroke and also bested the school’s 100m breaststroke record at the Women’s NCAA Swimming and Division Championships.
This morning, a dream becomes a reality.Tags: