Paul Gallen (centre) pictured with Sean Burke and Paddy Mullally at the Athlone Basketball Club's annual awards night last Sunday. Paul received a lifetime achievement award from the club at the awards event.

Athlone's Paul Gallen honoured for contributions to rowing and basketball

This week has been an exciting one for Athlone man Paul Gallen, as he received two separate honours recognising his contributions over the decades to the sports of rowing and basketball.

"A bit like the 46a bus, these things never seem to arrive, and then two appear at the same time," joked the Coosan resident.

On Sunday last, he received a lifetime achievement award from Athlone Basketball Club at its annual awards evening in Our Lady's Bower.

Then, yesterday (Wednesday), his extensive involvement with Athlone Boat Club was acknowledged by Rowing Ireland when it named him as its 'Volunteer of the Month' for May.

The two accolades came hot on the heels of the official opening of Athlone Boat Club's impressive new headquarters on April 29.

Paul was centrally involved in the development of the new facility, and at the official opening event the club surprised him by revealing it would be known as the 'Paul Gallen Boat House'.

"That was a complete surprise, and completely overwhelming. I'm still trying to get my head around it," he told the Westmeath Independent.

Rowing Ireland, the sport's governing body, said it was delighted to acknowledge Paul's contribution to the sport as a "dedicated member of Athlone Boat Club" who "wears many hats" in supporting the club.

"Paul Gallen truly is the essence of Athlone Boat Club," stated Rowing Ireland, pointing out that he had served as club treasurer, committee member, development committee chair, and director, as well as being a Masters rower, mentor and exceptional leader.

Paul is currently the treasurer of the club. Aged in his late 60s, he remains actively involved in Masters rowing, winning three medals at an event in Castleconnell, Co. Limerick, last weekend.

Nick Friel (left), Athlone Boat Club captain, and Michael Murtagh (right) presenting the Paul Gallen Boat House wall plaque to Paul Gallen and Mary Gallen at the official opening of Athlone Boat Club's new facilities. Photo: Paul Molloy.

He said Athlone Boat Club's new home had "made a huge difference" to its members of all ages.

"Basically we had to work on the same footprint (as the old boat club) but we were able to double the size of the space by going up a storey. It meant that the ground floor is totally devoted to boat space.

"We were also able to go up a metre, off the last floor level, which took us above the flood plain.

"The design upstairs is spectacular, really. We have indoor rowing machines, wattbikes and weights, and when you're rowing on the rowing machines you'd think you were on the water because the glass goes right down to the floor.

"It's on the edge of the river, but as you're sitting there looking out you'd think you were over the river. So it's a very clever design.

"We also applied for grants for new equipment, so we have new equipment and a new facility."

The premises is now in use almost around the clock, he explained.

"In the morning, kids are arriving at 6.30 and going out for rows at 7am. Some of the older kids are doing two sessions a day, so they'd be doing another session in the evening.

"Some adults are using the gymnasium on their way to work in the morning, and then there are retirees coming in during the day for workouts. So it's being used all day, from 6.30 in the morning until 8 or 9 at night."

He added that the club had also started running adult rowing courses for the first time recently.

"We did an indoor one first of all - we called it 'couch to 5k' - and then we started an outdoor one, which is just about coming to an end.

"Fifteen adults have gone through that, and some have never rowed before, so alongside the competitive rowing we're trying to create a recreational offering as well.

"It will help with the running of the club, as well, if we get more adults involved."

Basketball has been Paul's other great sporting interest. He first started playing it as a 13-year-old student of the Marist College in the 1960s.

Both he and his wife Mary have has spells as chairperson of Athlone Basketball Club, and, in 2000, Paul was among a group which helped establish a Masters basketball scene in Ireland for the first time.