Dancing with the Stars contestant Ellen Keane is a role model to so many people across the country, but she has candidly shared that she has dealt with the fear of rejection in her personal life.
Speaking to Brendan O’Connor, the Paralympic gold medalist and swimmer said she grew up in Ireland as a young woman with a disability.
She says her sport has helped her overcome the insecurity and self-consciousness she used to feel when she was born with an undeveloped left arm.
Ellen shared that she kept her disability to a minimum for much of her teenage life, trying to fit in with her peers while practicing her swimming. As she progressed through her college years, she debated how to present her disability to prospective romantic partners and about dating apps, fearing the rejection it would bring.
“You don’t want (the disability) to be the only thing people look at.”
“You don’t want people to initially think ‘oh no, they’re disabled, next one’, and that was my fear,” she told Brendan on his RTE Radio One show.
“I didn’t just want to show my face because eventually you have to meet this person and then eventually tell him. So it was like how do I do this? How did I find out to avoid the scary rejection. It’s just the world where you have to navigate through these days.
Ellen has since found love with fellow athlete international table tennis player and coach Gavin Maguire.
The couple met before lockdown hit in 2020 after sharing on social media.
“My boyfriend has a background in sports, so he played table tennis for Ireland, and I was living with people who weren’t athletes at the time, and I was struggling so much because I had to do my gym in the backyard and I had to cycle in the backyard and it wasn’t a sporty environment and I really struggled with that so that’s why I moved in with my friend Gav.
The environment itself was more acceptable, it was like ‘Ellen is at work’ rather than ‘Ellen is doing a home workout’, so it was my daily routine and part of my job.”
I hadn’t even dated him that long. His parents were so supportive, I think it was three months and I was moving into the family home,” she laughed. The couple now have their own place with their dog.
Ellen shared that her younger self’s insecurities were helped by her love of sports, as she realized how essential it was for her to use her platform to spark a broader discussion about living with disabilities in Ireland.
She attributed her success in the sport to helping her navigate the self-awareness she used to feel about her difference.
“If I hadn’t played sports, I don’t know how long I would have stayed in that insecure bubble or if I would have ever gotten out of it. I don’t know if I could ever have hugged my arm and embraced my body. Sport pushed me to see what I was physically capable of and that’s how I learned to love my arm,” she said.
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“I went to my first Paralympic Games when I was 13, so I was so young, and then my peak insecurities started creeping in.”
“I almost strayed from talking about sports and talking about the Paralympic Games because as soon as someone heard ‘Paralympic Games’ they would say ‘Disability? You have a disability? What is your disability? and I was so ashamed of that word and my body and my disability that I literally didn’t embrace my sport.”
“It wasn’t until after Rio that I realized how important it is for me to recognize the word disability, because I do have a disability.”
You can see Ellen every weekend on Dancing With the Stars Ireland on RTE One.
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