In a League of Their Own
The Irish athletes going for gold in sport and academia.
What do you get when you mix true grit, dogged determination and sheer talent? A triathlete.
When it comes to dominating college sports, University of Limerick is leading the pack with a new generation of triathletes emerging stronger than ever before. We spoke to some of UL’s most promising talent.
From a young age, Con Doherty was an all-round sports enthusiast enjoying everything from rugby, football, karate, boxing to horse-riding. But the catalyst for his sporting interest came from an unusual area: the WWE.
“I remember I really wanted to be a wrestler and thinking I couldn’t go to the gym because I was too young. I was a pudgy little fellow – I needed to get lean so I went out and started running because I knew it was the best way to get in shape.”
Hailing from Westport, the cardio bug had bitten the Mayo man and his ambitions to excel never waned. At the age of 14, he began running with the school cross country team. “I told my dad I was going to run across America or do something crazy. He told me to do a triathlon instead.”
Con’s Dad suggested the Ironman triathlon and he spent his confirmation money on a “good bike.” It wasn’t long until he was on the Irish triathlon squad after impressing the judges at a talent scouting day aged just 15. “I remember my first ever triathlon was in the National Aquatic Centre. I had no fear or nerves in me – just sheer excitement. It was bliss.”
I remember my first ever triathlon was in the National Aquatic Centre. I had no fear or nerves in me – just sheer excitement. It was bliss.
Within two years, Con had won bronze at the Junior World Championships in Auckland. Since then, he’s gone from strength to strength, placing second at the Junior Cross Triathlon World Championships and first in the Junior European Cup.
As a UL scholar, Con benefits from having the facilities needed for his three disciplines on the one campus, as well as extensive physiological testing if required. His rise as a triathlete is nothing short of meteoric with a whole host of podium placements in tow.
Con is as fastidious about his course work as he is about his training. Having initially taken some time out after school and travelling to Australia, he is now in his second year of the BSc in Product Design and Technology in UL. He enjoys the mixture of creative thinking and practical, problem-solving techniques it affords him. A huge draw for Doherty is the studio-based project work. He enjoys seeing a project from its inception to fruition, a motto that applies for his sporting goals also.
His dream is to qualify for the Olympics in 2020, a dream that seems very plausible considering the level of success Con has achieved in such a short space of time. With a two-year window of qualification, he plans on competing in domestic races until he finishes his exams and then it’s on to Spain for warm weather training and racing. But at the end of the day, he tells us, the Olympics is not just one race; it’s a journey.
That being said, his game plan is pretty solid. “I ask myself what it is that I want to achieve, I assess what it will take to achieve it, I plan, and then I execute.”
Con Doherty, BSc in Product Design and Technology, 2020
Darren Dunne is used to thinking outside of the box. One of Ireland’s finest triathlete talents, he has fuelled his passion for success with innovative and adaptive thinking.
When he was preparing for the World Junior Championships last year in Mexico, Darren realised that if he were to acclimatise his body for competing in warm weather, he would need to train in a heated environment. But he didn’t let the Irish weather conditions stop him. He fashioned a small heat chamber in one of the labs on the campus, using it for treadmill sessions.
The best facility the University has to offer is the world class altitude house, according to Dunne. Situated right on campus,
it allows users to simulate being at altitude instead of having to travel abroad.
I have had lots of support from my lecturers when it comes to clashes with my sporting commitments. This helps keep things stress-free and lets me focus on my sports and studies in a balanced way.
The support offered to him by UL has been fundamental to his success, he says. “I have had lots of support from my lecturers when it comes to clashes with my sporting commitments. This helps keep things stress-free and lets me focus on my sports and studies in a balanced way.”
Renowned across Ireland as one of the best sporting campuses any college or university has to offer, Darren describes UL as, “a triathlete’s dream.” The sports arena has an array of facilities with one of the only Olympic-sized swimming pools in the country and a 400m outdoor track. Darren loves to run along the path that connects the campus to the city. It allows for some lush, scenic run routes.
Training for a triathlon involves short, sharp bursts of high intensity interval training. A typical training week for the athlete at this time of year consists of between 20-25 hours
of training: six swims, three cycles and five runs with some stretching and core/gym work thrown in, too.
It can be pretty demanding on top of a part-time job and college work, says Darren. “Thankfully, having worked with my coach Lynne Algar for several years now, we’ve developed a very good routine of balancing everything to make sure I’m performing at my best.”
To succeed at this game, he says, you need to stick with it. “It won’t happen overnight. You need to be in it for the long run. Dedication and hard work will eventually reward you with success. Have a good team around you. Trust yourself, trust the process and believe in your own potential.”
Darren’s goal is to be an Olympian and to be competitive on the international triathlon circuit. “I’m constantly learning. Little things like nutrition, sleep and recovery add up over time.” Having just finished a year abroad in Leeds University where, he says, they have the best triathlon facilities in the world, he is now training in Spain with the national squad to prepare for the 2018 season. “If everything goes to plan, I’m hoping to compete in two European Cups in March, one in Spain and another in Portugal. In April, my main races are the Intervarsity Triathlon championships in Nenagh and the Joey Hannan Memorial Triathlon which takes place in UL. For May, then I might do another local triathlon in Carlow before a European Cup
Darren Dunne, BA Arts (Joint Honours), 2019
Carolyn Hayes has been going to and from UL for sports since she was seven years old. She swam with Limerick Swimming Club from a very young age, using the 33m swimming pool but when the 50m project was announced, the excitement was palpable. When it opened, it surpassed all her expectations. “We used to travel to the UK on swim camps but nothing compared to UL. Even the NAC lacks in comparison. The facilities are world class.”
A champion triathlete, Carolyn has enjoyed success from her first competitive season in 2014 when she won the Standard Distance Triathlon National Championships, the Aquathlon National Championships and the Vodafone National Series. She credits her success to hard work, dedication and access to exceptional facilities that she says are continually developing.
Carolyn believes support was crucial to her development as an athlete. A recipient of one of the inaugural Beo sports scholarships, she enjoys membership to the pool and gym as well as access to physiologists and dieticians.
A final year student in medicine, pursuing an athletic career has meant early mornings, strict discipline and exceptional time management. “I had to be extremely disciplined with maintaining my studies and balancing
the demands of training for three individual sports. Early morning studying and swimming meant I had a head start on my peers each day we presented to teaching or hospital.”
Combining her passions, Carolyn managed to secure a placement five minutes from campus in third year with a GP who had a special interest in sports medicine. “In hindsight, it was tough to keep on top of study, placement and training but I always enjoyed what I was doing so I found a way to make it work. I sacrificed a lot of social events to study and train but I know I gave my all to both at the time.”
I always enjoyed training, I had great training partners in UL and I thoroughly enjoy the buzz of racing when I know the hard work will pay off.
Hard work, self belief and consistency in training is key to success, she says. “If I had sat down and thought about it, I would have said it wasn’t possible to combine both. But if you enjoy what you do then you will succeed. I think my success came from never feeling pressured to succeed: I always enjoyed training, I had great training partners in UL and I thoroughly enjoy the buzz of racing when I know the hard work will pay off.”
Although she has obviously worked extremely hard, Carolyn says there’s an element of luck involved. Having achieved so much in such a short timeframe, we reckon the only way is up.
Carolyn Hayes, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, GEMS, 2017
5 Upcoming Triathlons in Ireland this Year
Tri795 Carlow Sprint
Westport Sprint Distance
Caroline Kearney Memorial
Standard Distance Triathlon
Dublin City Sprint Distance
AG National Championships