Paralympics: Tragic death of Paralympic rowing star, Karen Cromie at 31

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Updated: February 1, 2011

Her family, friends and Paralympic athletes and supporters throughout Ireland and Great Britain,are trying to come to terms with the tragic death at the weekend of Karen Cromie, the 31 years old, resident of Ballinamallard in County Fermanagh, a member of the Ireland TAx2 (mixed pair) rowing team and who had been recently named in the Paralympics Ireland Panel of athletes for 2011. Karen was targeting qualification for Ireland for the London 2012 Paralympic Games having previously represented Great Britain at the Beijing Paralympic Games where she finished in 5th place.

The 31-year-old athlete was found under the flyover on the main Bangor to Belfast road two weeks after she threatened to take her own life at the same place, reported the ‘Newsletter’

A huge crowd attended her funeral yesterday at Ballinamallard Methodist Church.

Rev Ken Lindsay said she had been “bubbly, generous, lively, hardworking, dedicated, caring, sensitive, charming, bright-eyed, inspirational, fiercely independent, determined to the point of being stubborn, and always putting others before herself”.

He told mourners: “Karen had mental illness and try as she might, and I believe she did try hard, she couldn’t cope.”

He said she had been surrounded by highly devoted family and friends. “So many things were in place, but illness is illness and there are times when nothing helps’’

It is understood the former Enniskillen Collegiate pupil lost the use of her legs after an accident while at university in Edinburgh several years ago.

Born in Banbridge,Co. Down Ms Cromie had been a member of the GB Wheelchair Basketball Team and had won silver medals at the 2005 and 2006 Paralympic World Cups.

She later joined the rowing squad having learned the sport on Lough Erne. David Tanner, GB Rowing Team Performance Director said rowers and support staff, were saddened at the news of Karen’s passing.

“We have all been shocked at the news of the death of someone so young who had been an energetic and successful member of the team and we extend our condolences to her family at this sad time,” he said.

Local Ulster Unionist Councillor Raymond Farrell said the entire community was pulling together to support the Cromie family at this dreadful time.

“It’s been an awful blow to the family. Ballinamallard is a small village. There is a great sense of shock and numbness. People are really lost for words. There is a sense of raw emotion out there.

“I knew Karen myself. She was a lovely person – a really bright personality, a warm person.

“Everything she did, whether it be her schooling or whatever she did, she gave it a 100 per cent. That came out by the fact that she did so well at the Paralympics. It is all the more shocking what happened,” said Councillor Farrell.

“Everybody is really lost for words. I know everyone’s thoughts are with them and we pray for God’s help for them in the coming days,” he said.

Northern Ireland Sports Minister Nelson McCausland has passed on his sincere condolences to the family and friends of Karen.

He said: “Karen was a talented athlete who competed at an international level in the World Rowing Championships and also in the Paralympic Games in Beijing. We are all proud to have known such a sporting talent.

“I appreciate that this is a very difficult time for all the family and friends and my thoughts are with you.”

Ulster Unionist Councillor in Co Fermanagh Bertie Kerr, who lives in Ballinamallard and knows the Cromie family well, said he was devastated by her death.

Councillor Kerr said he was very upset for Karen’s mother Joy who is a local teacher and her father Alex who worked at the Department of Agriculture.

“She was a lovely girl – a beautiful looking girl. Then she had that accident. It hasn’t been easy for her,” he said, adding that she had considerable success as an athlete and had several local firms sponsor her.

“She came from the very best of a home with wonderful parents. We are absolutely devastated,” he said.

Following the Beijing Games, Karen transferred nationality to join Rowing Ireland’s new adaptive rowing programme and competed at World Championship level for Ireland. She was a key team member in the squad vying to become the first ever Irish rowing team to compete at a Paralympic Games

Karen initially began her sporting career with the Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club, based in Antrim, before going on to win a place on the GB Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Squad.

However, realising her talents were better suited to the new Paralympic sport of ‘adaptive rowing’ she transferred to the sport of rowing in 2006, winning a place on the GB Adaptive Rowing Team. She competed at the 2006 World Championships before going on to achieve a 5th place finish in the mixed pairs

event at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, alongside partner James Roberts,from Wales.

In 2009 Karen transferred from Team GB to join Rowing Ireland’s new squad of adaptive rowers. She competed for Ireland at the International Adaptive Regatta in Italy in April 2010, winning two silver medals.

Kevin O’Neill, Director of Disability Sports NI said:

‘Karen was a lovely, bubbly person who was a pleasure to know. Because of her sporting achievements both in wheelchair basketball and adaptive rowing and because she had competed for both GB and Ireland, she was a well-known and popular member of the disability sports community. The news of

Karen’s tragic death has shocked and saddened the whole disability sports community throughout the UK and Ireland.’

‘Karen was also a member of the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland and represented a new generation of talented and highly successful disabled sports people from Northern Ireland, to be recognised by broader society as elite sports people in their own right.’

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