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Greta strides Runner had never heard of Paralympics - but is now preparing to compete in Tokyo

Growing up alongside her siblings, Emilija and Arnans, Greta was unaware of any issues with her eyesight until she was seven.

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Greta Streimikyte will be at the Paralympics

Greta Streimikyte will be at the Paralympics

Greta Streimikyte will be at the Paralympics

For the first 17 years of her life Greta Streimikyte was blissfully unaware of the Paralympics. Now it occupies her every waking moment.

One of triplets born four weeks prematurely in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in 1995, she sustained damage to her retina after being placed in an incubator.

Initially diagnosed as fully blind, her parents sought a second opinion in Sweden and surgery returned partial sight to her left eye.

Growing up alongside her siblings, Emilija and Arnans, Greta was unaware of any issues with her eyesight until she was seven.

"I was treated exactly the same as my brother and sister. I was a crazy child and I loved to climb trees. I wouldn't be particularly careful but I think my Dad was the one who observed me, but he never interfered."

Greta says she first realised something was amiss on a shopping trip to buy school stationery.

"I wanted to get the same things as my brother and sister, but I noticed my mom was very hesitant about buying them. I started to wonder why."

It was only when she was sent to a different school to her siblings to learn Braille that she realised she didn't need copies and pencils.

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Greta won gold in the Women’s T13 1500m in Berlin

Greta won gold in the Women’s T13 1500m in Berlin

Greta won gold in the Women’s T13 1500m in Berlin

By the time the family moved to Ireland in 2011 she was able to read from a normal textbook. A more enlightened approach to sight loss in Irish education helped her as well.

She accepts she will never drive. Otherwise, Greta doesn't allow her partial blindness to impact on any other aspect of her life.

"I would be a very dangerous driver but apart from that it doesn't make any difference. I'm like this so long I don't feel like it's a struggle every day. I'm absolutely fine," said Greta, who lives independently in Ringsend, Dublin.

Her father first came to work in Ireland when she was seven.

"Originally he came for a few months. But a few months turned into a year and then a year turned into five years. After that we decided we would all move here so we could grow up together.”

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Greta Streimikyte on the podium

Greta Streimikyte on the podium

Greta Streimikyte on the podium

Greta enrolled in Rosmini Community School in Drumcondra. It took her about a year to become proficient in English. "I had a bit of English when I arrived, but I definitely wasn't fluent. I just needed practice in order not to be afraid to speak it."

A seminal moment came when the school's physical education teacher, Sean Gallagher, invited her to run in an 800m race in Santry Stadium. At the age of 17 she made her track debut, finishing second.

"A few days later he came back to me and asked me would I like to represent Ireland in the Paralympic Games. Honestly, I didn't really know what the Paralympic Games were. But I said 'OK, let's start training.' She linked up with Clonliffe Harriers Athletic Club and by the time she become an Irish citizen in 2016 she was ready to make waves on the track.

Streimikyte secured a bronze medal in the 1,500m on her international debut at the 2016 European Par Athletics championships, which secured her a place at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016, where she finished fourth in the 1500m final in her category.

Though it is said that fourth in the worst place to finish in an Olympic final, Greta has no regrets.

"It was my first time competing in the Paralympics, so it was a stepping stone for me. I ran a personal best time (4:45.06) on the day.

"Could I have done any better? Probably not, but obviously I would have liked to win a medal. But you must be realistic too. Finishing fourth gave me something to chase as well."

Two years later, at the European Para championships in Berlin, she struck gold in the 1500m, and her aim is a podium finish at the rescheduled Tokyo Paralympics, which are due to begin on August 24.

Alongside her athletic career, the 25-year-old has excelled in academia.

She holds a primary degree in international relations as well as a master's degree in business science from Dublin City University. "I kinda miss studying. I enjoyed the process of learning and might do more courses after Tokyo."

Now a full-time athlete, she is funded to the tune of €20,000 a year by Sport Ireland. Last year she linked up with the Dublin Track Club, a group of elite Irish middle-distance athletes coached by Feidhlim Kelly, who train together in various locations on Dublin's northside.

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Greta has been working with Feidhlim Kelly

Greta has been working with Feidhlim Kelly

Greta has been working with Feidhlim Kelly

Such has been their impact that five of the Irish 23-strong team competing at this weekend's European indoor championship are coached by Kelly.

"They are an amazing group; very focussed and very driven. They're a great fit to me as everybody is working towards the same goal," Greta said.

But there are no shortcuts to the podium. Over the winter Kelly introduced her to the joys of hill running in Howth, including a 5km training run which had a challenging climb called Corkscrew and a steep ascent from the Summit Inn to a nearby car park.

"I really enjoyed those runs," said Greta, who is ranked fourth in the world in her Paralympic event.

Both her maternal and paternal grandparents are alive and living in Lithuania. "My mom is very good at communicating with them and telling them what's happening. But because of Covid-19 I haven't seen them for about two years."

  • For the Irish Paralympic team to make it to Tokyo this summer they need to raise an additional €500,000. You can get behind Greta and her colleagues now at paralympics.ie.

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