This is how Aoife O’Mahony described her vacation plans as she headed home to Kerry just before Christmas. The Ballydonoghue woman has been awarded an athletics scholarship for the past four years at Saint Leo University in Florida.
O’Mahony appreciates this holiday season, visit home. Last year, Covid robbed her of a place at the family’s Christmas dinner table at their home in the town of Coolkeragh in Ballydonoghue parish down the road from Listowel. Not nice from covid. Santa was nice this year. She got home halfway through her final year on a scholarship. Over the Atlantic waters falling to the calm contrast north of Kerry.
The liberal arts campus at SAINT Leo – its home of four years of study and running so far – houses approximately 2,500 undergraduate students and is located approximately thirty miles from Tampa. It’s a Catholic university, founded in 1889 by the Florida Benedictine Order, small enough on a liberal arts campus for teachers to know the names of the students. Lecturers and students talk to each other after class. Friendly and positive.
“It’s different in St. Leo than in the big Irish universities. It’s a small campus and everyone has to live in it. You know a lot of people and it’s all very nice,” she said. Keriman.
And Saint Leo is out of the way, too. “You’ve been hearing that Balidonogo is remote, but our college is really in the middle of nowhere!” The nearest store is a ten-minute drive away. remote and personal.
Aoife is majoring in social work and minors in criminal justice. She chose criminal justice because she really loves the psychology of things and discovering the reasons why people commit crimes. When you’re done, she hopes to work in the field of social work, especially with women victims of international sex trafficking. So her major and minor subjects would fit well in that profession.
She has only five months of study left and her goal is to earn a master’s degree in Washington later to secure employment. Master’s degrees are vital to career opportunities. Running well will be the key gentlemen. To get to Washington, she will have to run 2:06 for her chosen track event, the 800m, by next May to receive a scholarship. That would be a huge jump from her current time in Division 2 College 2:14 to her time in Division 1 recruitment. She has the conviction to persevere.
Her typical St Leo day starts with a workout or run at 5.45am. This stops, depending on the day, and you usually hop back into bed after 7.45pm for an hour’s nap before class. In the middle of classes, she meets her friends for an hour in the cafeteria. “We discuss plans for the weekend and how the session went that morning,” she says.
She finished her lessons at about 3 p.m., followed by a gym session at 3.30. There is a light yoga or meditation session afterwards which is free after 6pm for the rest of the evening “where I like to catch up on homework and documentaries”. Unless she’s working at her part-time job in dorms, she’s usually done by 9 p.m. and can relax with her peers to take a break and get ready for the next day.
However, some nights are busy. She is currently working part-time as a resident assistant in St. Leo. It’s like being the apartment police, making sure that order is maintained in the dwellings!
“I really like that you do shifts between 8pm and 12 midnight. I have to come back a week early in college every fall for job training, do fire drills and the like.” The job is worth it because you don’t have to work at home during the summer at that time. It makes the student feel.
But working from 8pm to midnight can be tough when we have to get up at 5.45am the next morning for training. “We have to train early to avoid the heat later in the day, although I can’t get into that habit when I’m home in Ballydonoghue!”
Heat is never a problem in Balidonogo! If you are late for training in Saint Leo, then you should do push-ups. Old and trusted motivation to be on time. Army style. You sometimes think that hard training in the morning can cause injuries to some athletes (“Not to me, I never get injured”) and a long, slow jog might be more appropriate at that time in the morning rather than a big session. All schedules should take into account the individual needs of the athletes. Cut the fabric to measure.
Last month, the Saint Leo women’s cross-country team won the Sunshine State Conference title. The win boosted their morale and the spirits of their university. This was their first device of the 2021/22 season. They run green and gold too. That’s fine with Aoife as Keri’s woman. From the football stronghold of Balidonogo. Aoife came 19th in that race, as the team’s fourth leading scorer, boosted up front by Dublin player Faye Dervan in second. Dervan goes places. Aoife was happy to be a team runner. Every place matters and she is a fighter. Being on a scholarship does not mean you have to be an Olympian.
Kevin Lynch was her coach as a teenager at Lios Tuathail AC when Aoife was a sophomore on Presentation Listowel. The chief there was Eileen Keneally, herself an avid park runner and also from Baledonoghue. Aoife then went to Union Carbide Corporation where she came under the umbrella of Olympian Donnie Walsh. It was very good, stress free and asked her to build “miles and miles and miles” and do the hills too.
Then she got the scholarship at St. Leo and coach Kent took over the course of her running career. What is the best way to prepare for the 800m?
“There are a lot of theories about how to train for the 800m, whether to do more miles or run faster, but what I’ve learned over the past few years is that I should know what works best for me. I now know I don’t need more than forty miles. of distance training a week. I’m not designed for bigger miles.”
From 2020-21, she participated in five indoor encounters in the United States and two outdoor encounters during the brief Covid-19 season. She has had twelve top-ten wins including six event wins and has had three wins at the UT Track Classic (2/28) including the 800m (2:18.71) and 1500m (4:42.04) and as a member of the St. Liu Squad Relay 4x800m.
But the obstacles are many. You’ll need to cut at least eight seconds of PB next year to feel progress. She ran a 2:14 PB in 2016 “so I have some serious training to do because I haven’t gotten close to it since!” She does about 2:21 these days.
You have to train six days a week, two hard sessions on Tuesday and Friday, and a long competition and other things on the other days. There is one head coach with two assistants. “I do the miles with the head coach and I do the plyometrics and I do the speed with the sprint coach.”
There is a huge cross-country orientation in the program…they don’t really have an on-campus course in Saint Leo. It’s amazing hearing that. The nearest track is a thirty minute drive from college in high school and Aoife and her team train there once every two weeks.
“Otherwise we train on a football field and sometimes the grass is wet and some of the roads we use are dirt roads. I’m lucky I’ve never been injured, so when I walk on a proper running track past the grass and dirt roads, I bounce away!” note potential athletes at Scholarships in the United States. There are soft green fields in the distance too!
AOIFE is honest about the quality of the sporting year they have had. “As athletes, the truth is that we don’t get the privilege of celebrating success without having at some point in time experienced disappointment along the way.” Such is the hardship of sport, but such is the beauty of the journey. The first part of 2021 was disappointing for her “not in the way I wanted to represent myself, Ireland and all the people who support me”. However, lessons have been learned, and overall this short Covid-beaten season has been a success. Especially when a conference team win can be celebrated in the fall.
“Now moving forward with the fire lit and ready, to add more fuel every day. The weird year made me interested in the mental health aspect of sport and focus on our general well-being. I have learned that life is so much more than sport and I have learned that I am not just a runner. I am human too. This is a plus. Big for 2021 – I tend to put less pressure on myself than in my pre-Covid days.”
Not only has Covid been relentless in its power and regeneration a relentless challenge. Silver lining stuff. Well done Aoife. Olympic boxing champion Kelly Harrington agrees: sport is part of it. Not all of them.
Another thing I noticed and reported is former Irish athletes who graduated from America. Beyond scholarship days, there is no traditional environment where they can return to that is funded and spoon-fed the way college does. That’s unless you’re one of the tiny percentage of athletes, like one percent, who can survive as professionals. Therefore, maintaining academic grades is very important to Aoife. “My big goal is to focus on all the small steps needed to reach this big goal.”
O’Mahony wasn’t working last summer at Kerry’s “because I’m always sarcastic!” She loves variety and loves nothing better during the holidays in Kerry than hopping on a bus or train to catch up with her friends and she can go for a run while they’re with them.
the future? If you don’t earn a master’s degree in Washington, there is a Plan B. Every student, especially scholarship students, should have a Plan B.
“I have enough money to do a little travel after graduation and maybe do some teaching English as a foreign language. I would like to go to Asia but I haven’t done as much in Europe as Italy, Switzerland and Belgium.”
Straightforward and conscientious, O’Happy O’Mahony has survived and thrived thanks to her scholarship in the United States. The values she absorbed made her cruel and self-evident. Not purchased and not owned.
When Christmas is over and the final months of scholarship are gone, she’ll be armored for her life off the track, too. You will sparkle in new ways.
“Freedom goes faster,” said Brendan Keneally.