The life of an Olympic student athlete training in Limerick

Finn McGeever Olympics Olympian Swimmer Swim Ireland
Photo by Swim Ireland/@swimireland on Twitter.

UL student and Olympic swimmer, Finn McGeever, discusses keeping his head above water as a high-performance athlete.

By Ciara McKenna

University of Limerick student athlete Finn McGeever began swimming competitively at the age of nine. Since then, he’s made waves in the competitive swimming world.

Finn McGeever (inside right) after breaking a record with his teammates at the FINA World Championships.

McGeever competed for Team Ireland at the 2020 Summer Olympics as part of the first-ever Irish quartet to compete in the 4x200m freestyle relay event.

The 22-year-old also holds national records for both individual and team swimming events.

The Olympian trains with National Centre Limerick and is aiming for a second Olympic appearance in Paris next year.

Swimming at the highest level means sacrifices have to be made, and trying to find the balance between this, being a full-time student, and maintaining a social life comes with its own unique difficulties.

Speaking on these challenges, McGeever said, “Our coaches used to say ‘it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a choice’, which I thought was a good way of putting it.

“We definitely sacrifice nights out but it’s worth it in the long run when you look back at what we’ve accomplished as a group”.

McGeever was granted a sports scholarship and is in the final year of his Bachelor’s Degree in Maths and Physics at UL.

He is grateful for the support received over the years while training on his home turf, where it all began, as well as for the UL Scholarship programme.

Training to be a high-performance athlete is no small feat, with nine swim sessions and two-to-four gym sessions per week. How does McGeever balance this with the other aspects of college life?

“It’s difficult enough, it’s kind of taken me four years to do it and even now I’m still not perfect at it, but I suppose you do have to just get into the habit,” McGeever explained.

The UL Scholarship university timetable and training plan cater to each other, giving athletes the best chance to keep an equilibrium between the two.

“Lecturers are understanding. They always have been. My attendance in college was quite poor up until this semester.”

The Olympian joked, “I kind of figured out in the final semester of fourth year that going to college is actually really, really useful.”

A major contributing factor that keeps UL’s swimmers afloat is the sense of community fostered over the years.

Those training with National Centre Limerick and studying in UL all live together, and McGeever says this helps them to drive each other on.

 “It’s tough, but we enjoy it together. We get up and go training together, we all go to college together and then in the evening, we all eat dinner together so it’s a nice little atmosphere we have.

“It still gets intense, but we regulate it by having fun to keep ourselves going.”

On top of training and studying, consideration must also be given to the ‘partying’ aspect of college. Going out with friends plays a huge role in the college experience, even as a high-performance athlete, and the swimmers are no exception.

However, they’ve reeled it in this year as the time constraints of their busy schedules become even heftier.

“Maybe last year we pushed it too much, we went out too much. This year, I think we’ve gone to the other extreme of not going out at all. We’ve done a dry season, so it’s definitely about finding that balance and having the right people around you.

“We still miss rag week – we’d be walking to training in the morning and people are coming back from a night out – so that’s a bit tough, but we’ll get to a point in the season when we can go out, so we’re looking forward to that.”

McGeever and his teammates are approaching some important qualifying races, with hopes of competing in the Paris 2024 Olympics. The focus remains, and the stability must remain with it.

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