Mount Sackville Secondary School

Sisters of St.Joseph of Cluny, Chapelizod, Dublin 20


Caoimhe O'Ferrall: Canoe Slalom and School

So I have been asked to write about my experiences as a young athlete and in how I balance school and training full time.

Just maybe the lifestyle of a full time athlete suits me!

I like being focused on one thing and because I am a visual learner in how I understand and translate information  I can learn really technical skills in canoeing . In my school subjects I can apply this too in Art which I think I am good at but I am not good at Art history.

For me school and canoe slalom is like living in two different worlds, but when I am not achieving in school or having problems with a subject it affects my performance on the water.  For now I need to combine the two until I do my leaving certificate.  I guess it is a lifestyle choice.

Oh I should probably say what sport I do. It’s not big in Ireland but it is growing a little ever since I started 4yrs ago. My sport is canoe slalom.  I paddle for both the Junior and Senior team at national level representing Ireland  in the C1 women class.

So what is canoe slalom! It is an Olympic sport and you paddle on fast flowing water either on an artificial course or on a river. It is where you paddle on a course 250m long down through green gates and up an around red gates. There are normally  18-23 gates spread over the course. The idea is to get down the course in the fastest time possible with no penalties. Touching a gate (2secs) and missing a gate (50sec) results in  you getting penalties.

Someone once said to me “you should always be proud of yourself if you are representing your country in any sport”.  I am and when people don’t recognize an athletes achievement, it sometimes unbelievable  because the amount of time, effort, pain, injuries and emotion put in to be the best is insane and no one even notices cause. Having support from people  is very  important for me.

Though the fact that I know I have my whole family behind me and the pride and happiness it gives them every time they see me race and no matter if I am disappointed or happy they are gleaming. It helps but you need others to show that people are watching and you have others behind you.

I have both short time and  long term goals My long term goal is to represent Ireland in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and medaling at a Senior World Cup competition. My short term goals are set yearly and are usually  on making technical progress or improving my ranking place in races for example.

Achieving your goals in canoe slalom are different to achieving ones goals in school.

In school your goals are for a shorter period of time, for example it is 2yrs to your Leaving Certificate and within those 2 years you learn a certain amount and then there are the exams. In canoe slalom on the other hand it can take many years, like a 4 year cycle for the Olympics or 10 yrs to even achieve a medal at European or World races. But some things that are common between school and  training full time is that in order to achieve and do well, both need commitment and hard work.

Well I really love my sport.  For example the sense of accomplishment that I  get when I master a sequence of gates that  I couldn’t get the last time I trained on them is great. Although there might be more bad days than the good days, for me the good days always make the bad days look like nothing in comparison.

I would normally train 12-14 times a which would be in the gym, running and on the water which leaves very little time for anything else with school and homework. Now  that I am in 6th year I need to reduce my training schedule as the Leaving Cert is important for me. I know that I need to keep my options open for when I decide to stop my full time athlete life in canoe slalom. Between balancing school and full time training, I have very little time to socialize and outside school  my network of friends and socializing is around canoe slalom.  There is a really nice community and “canoe slalom is such an awesome sport”. Everyone gets to know everyone and helps each other  if they need it.

I do feel good about myself because I am healthy and I am trying to be a certain fitness and weight so that I can be better in the boat. There is so much you must to do. I never wanted to do competitive sport before I started  Secondary school even though I played rugby, hockey and canoeing.  In my junior years I realized that I was better than a lot of people at hockey but then I became more interested in canoeing and I realised that I hated doing hockey competitively. So people's perspective in doing different types of sport changes. You never know.

So my advice is to just stay healthy and have fun doing any type of exercise. DO SOMETHING YOU ENJOY AND YOU WILL STAY HEALTHY.

Our Senior team at the World Championships this year.