Irish Olympians inspired by Toy Show Star Freya

  • 9 July 2024, 16:50

Team Ireland athletes and Ceann Comhairle honoured to meet ‘special girl’ Freya at Leinster House

Team Ireland athletes (L-R) Bertram Allen, Cian O’Connor, Daniel Coyle, Shane Sweetnam, Austin O’Connor, Sarah Ennis, Aoife Clarke, Susie Berry and Abigail with Freya McLaughlin at Leinster House. Pic: Maxwells

Late Late Toy Show star Freya McLaughlin joined Team Ireland’s Paris Olympics equestrian athletes and Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl on the lawns of Leinster House to celebrate the origins of show jumping.

Dubliner Freya (12) joined the Irish show jumping and eventing teams, as well as individual dressage athlete Abigail Lyle as they were officially announced for the Games later this month.

Freya warmed the nation’s collective heart on the Toy Show when telling her story about how she rides at Festina Lente, the charity that provides a unique range of therapeutic equestrian services, for the past couple of years.

She was diagnosed with cancer soon after her second birthday. The tumour compressed the nerves in her spine and affected her lower body, pelvis, hip sockets, spine and pelvic cavity.

On the night, host Patrick Kielty surprised Freya by gifting her the trip of a lifetime to cheer on Ireland’s show jumpers at the Olympic final, and she was thrilled to meet her heroes at Leinster House.

Freya said: “I’ve had such a wonderful, amazing time, it’s been out of this world meeting the teams and I can’t wait to watch them at the Olympics!”

Freya rides Lir, the pony, at Festina Lente, and her time in the saddle has increased her core strength massively, through her hips and legs, to the point where she can walk short distances unaided.

Freya added: “On the horse, I don’t feel like a girl in a wheelchair anymore – I feel like a girl on a horse.

“I love going to Festina Lente and they have helped me so much – now I’m a million times stronger because of Festina Lente.”

Freya in her official Horse Sport Ireland team jacket riding her Pony Lir at Festina Lente

Horse Sport Ireland High Performance Show Jumping Director, Michael Blake, was on hand to greet Freya at Leinster House.

He said: “The lads are often told how they are an inspiration and that young riders hope to emulate them but none of them are as inspirational as Freya – she’s an inspiration to us all, a star, and she shows us what can be possible.

“It has been so lovely to meet Freya and her family and I can’t wait to see her in Paris as we go for gold – hopefully we can win that medal and she can wear it around her neck!”

Show jumper Shane Sweetnam added: “Freya really has made the day extra special and we loved having her here with us. She is a really special girl.”

This year will be the 160th anniversary of what is now the Dublin Horse Show. The first show was held in 1864 under the auspices of the Society but organised by the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland.

There were 366 entries in the first Show with a total prize fund of £520. In July 1868 the first show was held and organised by the Royal Dublin Society on the lawns of Leinster House. The Council granted £100 out of the Society’s funds to be awarded in prizes. It started as a show of led-horses and featured ‘leaping’ demonstrations.