Olympian turned sports photographer rediscovering buzz of competition
Bryan Keane endured a rollercoaster of emotions in his former life as a professional athlete. Three years on from his retirement, the former Olympian has found the perfect job in his quest to challenge himself and rediscover the buzz of competition.
Bryan Keane knows this. It’s a little over two years since the Cork man woke up to a distorted reality, his career consigned, at last, to the past tense.
In his mid-20s, after moving home from Belgium at the end of his cycling career, he spent a couple of years working as a photographer in Cork, a job he continued during a year in Australia.
But it was Down Under, at the age of 28, that he discovered a new obsession, triathlon, which enveloped his existence for the next eight years.
When that ended, the most obvious thing was to revert to photography — but how?
Keane was a few weeks into retirement when he got a call to pose for a shoot to promote the Tunnel Run with fellow Olympian Natalya Coyle. The photographer that day was a recognisable face, Dan Sheridan, and their chat would change the course of Keane’s future.
Knowing how hard a field it is to break into, Keane asked Sheridan to meet for a coffee so he could pick his brains on photography.
Sheridan went one better, inviting him to join him on a job in Athlone at a para-cycling event that weekend. He handed Keane a camera and let him fire away all day, and the two shot the breeze the whole way home about what was needed to succeed in the industry.
As it turned out Sheridan’s agency, Inpho, had an opening, and Keane was offered a one-month trial.
Life as a photographer — it’s not so different. The familiar rhythm of an average week is still an alien concept, his weekends surrendered to the altar of live sport.
Like the triathlon, you observe the best, absorb what you can, then practise, practise, practise — try to be better tomorrow than you were today. “It takes time, craft, training hours,” says Keane. “I was at the bottom of the ladder — welcome to the real world.”
Trace the arc of Keane’s career and you quickly spot a pivotal turning point, a terrible road crash. It was one that turned him from one of Ireland’s fittest men to a bloodied wreckage, lying in a helpless heap on the Cork to Cobh road. When he steps back now, looks at his career with the wide-angle lens, he can see the whole journey in a new light. How the crash — cruel twist of fate that it was — set off a chain reaction that shaped his life for the better.
These days, he knows how lucky he is to have found a replacement, a path that feels just as precious. Keane still rides his bike in his spare time, swims in the sea and runs when his legs will allow it, but he no longer has to.
He does it to stay healthy, and if he gets the odd flashback to his racing days, well, so be it. They’re in the past now, where they must remain. For him, the only way to fill the void is to accept what it was and not lose sleep over what it wasn’t.
“That’s what I achieved with the time I had in the sport, but life moves on and you evolve into something different,” he says. “It’s over, it’s done. I’m very happy to be on the other side.”