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Irish rower dies in Poland after freak accident hours after winning medal

The Guardian The Guardian 10/09/2016 Ruth McKee
Ailish Sheehan died in hospital in Poznan, Poland. © PA Ailish Sheehan died in hospital in Poznan, Poland.

A talented Irish rower has died after falling in a freak accident just hours after winning a bronze medal at the World University Championships in Poland.

Ailish Sheehan won the podium place with her three teammates in the British women’s four crew in Poznan last Sunday.

While celebrating the win with teammates she fell, suffering catastrophic injuries.

Sheehan slipped into a coma and on Friday afternoon died in hospital in Poznan with her parents, John and Catherine, and sisters, Niamh and Aine, by her bedside.

Her family had held a vigil by her bed throughout her six-day stay in the Polish hospital.

The 23-year-old post-graduate student was a member of the University of London boat club and had recently been elected its vice-captain.

The club’s chief coach, Phil Gray, said the rising star had a “significant future” in the the sport.

In a statement he said: “The whole club is devastated by this news. Not only was Ailish a top oarswoman with a significant future in the international side of the sport, but she also lit up the club with her humour and laughter.

“She was a great example to younger members and starting next year without her is hard to imagine at the moment, especially as she had been elected vice-captain.

“But our main thoughts are with Ailish’s family, who obviously meant so much to her.”

Tributes also poured in from from British Universities & College Sport (BUCS) – the governing body for higher education sport in the UK.

A spokesman said: “Ailish was involved in an accident after the culmination of the 2016 FISU World University Championships for rowing in Poznan on Sunday evening.

“BUCS, British Rowing and Rowing Ireland are providing support to her family during this difficult time and ask for their privacy to be respected.

“On behalf of everyone at BUCS, I wish to extend our condolences to the family and friends of Ailish and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”

The Limerick-born rower won an athletic scholarship to the prestigious University of Notre Dame in Indiana in 2011.

By the time she graduated four years later she was a member of their first varsity eight team.

While studying for a masters in design and environment at Goldsmiths, University of London, in the last academic year she won a slew of titles including a gold medal at the British Universities Championships in the women’s coxed four.

A spokesman from Goldsmiths said: “We are shocked and saddened at this tragic news. Our condolences and thoughts are with Ailish’s family and friends at this very difficult time.”

Lee Boucher, the British team manager in Poznan, said: “It is with great sadness that I have to report that our teammate Ailish has passed away in hospital in Poznan surrounded by her family.

“Our thoughts at this time are with all of her family and friends.”

He added: “Like her performances on the water, Ailish gave everything right until the very end, but unfortunately she was unable to win this battle.

“Ailish’s family take comfort in knowing that she didn’t suffer and that she was happy in her final moments.”

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