Keller determined to remain competitive despite uncertainties

Trinity Sport Scholar for 2020/21 Aisling Keller is taking advantage of the benefits the scholarship comes with in keeping up with fitness and training despite her season being on hold

The announcement of the sports scholarships this year was met with both excitement and surprise as the number of awards given out went down from 65 last year to just 35 this year. This can mainly be attributed to Bank of Ireland pulling out of their sponsorship deal with Trinity Sport as a result of the financial impact of the coronavirus and their loss of revenue, though this did not dampen the mood at the awards ceremony which was held this year online. The scholarships are awarded each year to anyone who has excelled at either a regional or Olympic level in their chosen sport and provides financial and academic support to those who are enrolled in their programme.

““Her principal was a sailing enthusiast and encouraged her to take part and soon her competitive instinct began to take hold and soon enough she was racing.”

One of the scholars chosen for this year was elite sailor Aisling Keller, the Laser radial sailor who qualified Ireland for a place in the Olympics this year although the games have been understandably put on hold. After falling into the sport by accident she has come a long way from her beginnings in Lough Derg Yacht Club. “I think I started when I was about ten or eleven. Sailing is not in my family at all, my parents didn’t sail or anything so it was just pure luck,” she tells of her humble beginnings. She began sailing as a result of her school where her principal was an enthusiast and encouraged her to take part. Soon her competitive instinct began to take hold and soon enough she was racing, “When I was 15 or 16, that was when racing started to click with me.”

She is now studying physiotherapy in college and trying to balance her rigorous training commitments and her academics. To this end she hopes that the sports scholarship will help her. “With the scholarship we get a lot of support from the Trinity Sport team. They help liaise with your lecturers and head of your course if you need some flexibility with assignments or exams. You also get strength and conditioning support and use of high performance gym and physio. On top of all that, there’s various workshops throughout the year for different things like nutrition or allergy testing. There is some financial support also.”

Covid has had an upsetting influence over the sports world this year leaving many athletes in the balance and uncertain of their future within the sport. This uncertainty applies to sailing as well since there is no specific start date for the season and no knowledge of how much of a season there will be. For Keller this has made her focus on her fitness and strength so that she is ready to react to a sudden start to the season, “Covid has caused a lot of uncertainty, especially with competing, I don’t really know when the season will start and how much of a season there will be. It means that I have to keep on top of fitness and skills. But that’s not something I complain of.”

This uncertainty has also affected her plans for the future as she is transitioning into a different class of boat, yet this has remained exciting and engaging for her as she tries out new things, “At the moment I’m in transition to a different class of sailing so training has been really enjoyable as it’s different. As you can imagine training can become cumbersome so keeping it fresh is important.”

“‘With all the uncertainty it’s hard to make plans so any plans I have are very provisional.’”

The plans made are up in the air as the ability to train has been so disrupted by Covid, although Keller is steadfastly optimistic for the future. “With all the uncertainty it’s hard to make plans so any plans I have are very provisional. I’m trying out different classes of boats and hopefully I’ll get to compete at some European championships within different classes.”

It will be interesting to see what the future has in store for Keller, having already taken the sailing world by storm in the Lasers, yet unfortunately missing out on her chance to compete in the Olympics due to the selection process by Irish Sailing. Trinity will also continue to support her as she navigates the complex world of Olympic Sport and being an elite athlete during these unsettling times.