At 29, Padraic Rocliffe’s career pathway has been diverse, mostly underpinned by three broad themes of physical activity, giving back to those who need it most and mental health.
As a PhD student, Physical Education and English Teacher at UL, the founder of Shine a Light, swim coach, keynote speaker and physical activity co-ordinator, Padraic says that each theme is fluid allowing one to comfortably intersect and inform another.
However, it is Padraic’s story to date that is more remarkable than his list of accolades.
From an early age, sport in many forms was central to Padraic’s life and he thrived on it. Football, boxing and swimming laps, were all part of the early interactions, but Padraic explains that “once realizing my true potential in the water, my swimming career became a priority and quickly grew to six water and two land-based sessions weekly.”
“I enjoyed many fruitful experiences in the water and at competition level where I had the privilege of representing my club, province and country at national and international level.”
Fast forward through third level programs in UCD and a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and English Teaching at UL, and Padraic was subsequently offered a PhD which commenced in January 2020, “marking another significant step in my journey to becoming an excellent research scientist in the area of translating the value of physical activity to the wider population.”
However in 2017, Padraic founded Shine a Light, “a charity that was founded on the back of a near death experience in August 2016 which lead to a conversation with two homeless people whom I was providing food for on Christmas Day in Las Vegas. It turned out they had been evicted from their home, were unable to pay their bills and had fallen a victim of society over there and were subsequently sleeping in the sewers. “What’s worse they were mother and son. This was a story that touched my heart and along with the ever-growing homeless problem that affects nearly 11,000 people nationally and at least 150 million globally, gave me the inspiration to set up Shine a Light.”
Padraic’s near death experience – probably couldn’t be more dramatic.
August 2016, midway through his undergraduate degree in UL and Padraic, while on exchange programme in California, was involved in a car crash in the heart of Death Valley.
God spoke to me, telling me to stay in the car until help arrived.
I subsequently avoided paralysation even with a broken neck, back and foot. I was airlifted to a trauma centre in Las Vegas where I was bed bound for some time and ultimately spent the next year in recovery, learning to walk amongst a variety of other fundamental movements we take for granted daily.
“Many of the skills I learnt in the water such as discipline and commitment resurfaced and were transferable directly to my recovery. Ultimately the car crash was the best thing that’s ever happened to me as it has altered the lens and perspective with which I choose to view life and has almost certainly rechannelled my energy in to giving back to those who need it most, while sharing my experiences along the way.
“Often traits of personal improvement or accomplishment are as a direct result of trauma. For me this is underpinned by three broad themes; depression, addiction and rehabilitation.”
At various times, Padraic faced challenges, both personal, emotional and speaks about depression and his mental health in a bid to help reduce the stigmas attached.
He has also dealt with periods of addiction in his life, often accompanied by the odd brush with authorities.
Overcoming them however, “ingrained within me a zest for life that is underpinned by my integrity, commitment, consistency, and desire to be the ultimate and best version of myself while giving back to those who need it most.”
To that end, Padraic’s work with the charity allows for “a coordination of campaigns that provide the homeless with Shine a Light care packs including clothing, food, liquids, and hygiene products. Furthermore, we educate schools, universities, and organizations on overcoming adversity and giving back to those who need it most through my story.
“Other areas of focus align with social interaction through our initiative ‘Chat and a cuppa’, which encourages conversations between volunteers and the homeless as building a social connection has been proven to have a positive psychological process in the brain.
There is a correlation between mental health and homelessness be it depression, anxiety or bi-polar, while the progressive psychological deterioration resulting from dependency on a substance such as alcohol and drugs is often reflected in the cities, towns and streets the length and breadth of Ireland.
“Evidence suggests that mental illness underpins many of these people’s issues and as such, the implementation of physical activity and awareness of its benefits such as on wellbeing has become a cornerstone of the organisation. My career not only involves giving back to those who need it most nationally but internationally”, Padraic concluded - Andrew Carey
Padraic won the Young Outstanding Person of Ireland earlier this year and was nominated to represent Ireland for the Young Outstanding Person of the World at the 2020 Junior Chamber International, World Congress, Yokohama, Japan.