independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

A Taylor-made job

Reaching out: Katie Taylor signs a glove for Colm Bracken (13)

Like many kids with dreams beyond the classroom, Katie Taylor admits that her head wasn't always in the game when it came to being a schoolgirl.

Attending St Fergal's primary school and St Kilian's Community School in Bray as a youngster, the Olympic medallist and world-boxing champion admitted that when it came to discipline, she had her moments.

"I was okay," she reflects. "I was never in that much trouble in school because I was always too afraid to come to my Mam afterwards if I'd been disruptive. I had my good days and bad days."

The schoolyard was, of course, where Katie began her love affair with sport – famously noting that when she was six or seven, she dreamt of being an Olympic champion. Once boxing, soccer and GAA football took their grip on the youngster, homework took something of a backseat.

"Sport was always part of the family I suppose, but I was encouraged in school, too," recalls Katie. "At the time it was hard, when you had competitions to do, as you'd have to go straight into training after homework."

Katie straddled both camps until it became abundantly clear that she had a preternatural talent for boxing.

Her first title of note came in 2005 – at the European Amateur Championships in Norway – when she won the gold metal. Dropping out of UCD, Katie became one of the top aid-granted athletes in Ireland . . . and the rest is history.

But while Katie's talents were recognised from the time that she took up boxing at the age of 10, she concedes that not every youngster in the Irish educational system gets such an easy ride. In a system where the plaudits often go to the athletically able as opposed to the athletically eager, Katie agrees that it's high time for a sea change.

"The education system is different here than in the UK," she notes. "Physical education isn't encouraged over here at all, and it's not on the curriculum as a subject. It's a shame, because sport has changed my life and helped me become the best person I am."

No better time, then, for Katie to step up as the official ambassador for a brand-new initiative being rolled out in Irish schools.

Sky Sports Living For Sport, in partnership with Youth Sport Trust, will aim to provide mentoring and inspiration to young people and schools that take part in the initiative. It is hoped that a third of Irish secondary schools will take part in the initiative within the next three years.

Already, Sky Sports Living For Sport is a roaring success in the UK, with David Beckham, Jessica Ennis and Darren Campbell already on board as mentors.

By her own admission, the only thing Katie takes as seriously as her gruelling training regime is her mantle as a role model. And while many athletes pay no end of lip service about their influence on young kids, one gets the impression that Taylor means it word for word.

What's more, it's thought that this initiative might just give Taylor a taste for a later career in coaching.

"I had seen the work that DarrenCampbell did with the kids (in the UK version of the initiative), so when they approached me I was so delighted to be involved," she enthuses.

"I have such a heart for this. I think it's great that someone is trying to get the best out of these kids. It's not about developing athlete skills, but about overcoming obstacles and developing confidence. And believing in themselves.

"Boxing is a short career, and being able to give back to these young kids is more rewarding than a medal," she adds.

In a world where bad role models for young girls are ten-a-penny, soft-spoken Katie has been lauded as a breath of fresh air. She's a curious mix; boasting a ruthless fury inside the ring, and an affable, even temper outside it.

While 2012 was a momentous year for the 26-year-old, 2013 brings another challenge: after much speculation, she is planning to fight professionally for the first time in her career. In addition to working towards the EU Championship in Hungary in July, Katie has the professional World Series of Boxing in her crosshairs.

Given that there are no women boxing in the WSB, it will be a big moment not just for Katie, but for the sport itself.

Every Olympic athlete in training readily admits to a life marked with dedication and sacrifice . . . yet Katie doesn't feel she has missed out on those typical socialising experiences, like pubs or partying.

"That just doesn't appeal to me," she notes. "I never had the desire for that lifestyle, and when you're living the life of your dreams, it never feels like you're missing out."

Rather, Katie admits to enjoying time with her friends and family, going to the cinema, theatre or gigs.

"I'm not a big 'girlie girl', like I'm not into shopping or anything," she laughs. "I did go see Beyonce just there, and she was just amazing. She makes me want to become a popstar!" One can only imagine . . . but, as Katie is keen to impart to her young charges, absolutely anything is possible.

To find out more about Sky Sports Living for Sport, visit skysports.com/livingforsport

Irish Independent

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