The 'outlaw' no longer in the shade
Mick Clohisey had only just stepped out of the shower when I called him at his home on Dublin's northside on Sunday evening. I was looking for a few extra details, following his stirring victory that afternoon in the Woodie's DIY National Inter-Clubs Cross Country Championships at Dundalk IT.
The Raheny Shamrock AC stalwart was getting ready to celebrate the finest achievement to date in an athletics career that sometimes stuttered, but always promised much more to come.
Clohisey is one of those endearing characters you meet on the Irish club athletics scene and, along with another great club man, Gary Thornton of Galway City Harriers, they combined to deliver a fitting grand finale to the cross-country season as the pair remained locked in battle for much of the race.
In more than 30 years of covering cross-country this was the first time I watched a runner wearing sunglasses win the national title. Mick can regularly be seen wearing his shades in competition in spring, summer, autumn or winter; a shield against sunlight and a prop that also defines his free spirit.
I think the Mick Clohisey I have come to know over the years would have felt very much at home in the company of Jack Kerouac, the author of that American classic On the Road and other great novels from the Beatnik era such as The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels and Visions of Cody.
Clohisey has always exuded the same free-spirited approach to life that Kerouac and his friends expounded, so I was not surprised to learn that the legendary American writer is one of his heroes. I suspect that reading the novels played no small part in persuading the Raheny man to take a few adventurous road trips of his own across the vast American continent.
Those solo road trips across the US in 2011 and 2012 may have slowed Clohisey's athletics progression a little, but they were trips that he felt compelled to complete while he was still on the right side of 30. Now, at 28, he has a treasure trove of great memories.
It was his father, Vinnie Clohisey – himself a Raheny Shamrock club stalwart as well as an accomplished singer/songwriter – who encouraged his son in his love of reading and music.
Mick loves the music of the legendary American 'outlaws' – singers like Woodie Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. He can play guitar and sing, too; with his shoulder-length hair and free-wheeling spirit, he would not look out of place in one of those great outlaw bands.
It was on his travels that Mick met the woman who has since become the love of his life. Anna Hitzelberger grew up in the mountains in Austria before moving to Vienna in recent years. The pair met in New Orleans and Mick was immediately smitten. He is a regular visitor to Vienna and Anna makes frequent trips to Dublin. Mick's only regret on Sunday was that Anna was unable to be there.
This was not Clohisey's first time winning a national cross-country title. He had earned the honour eight years previously with the junior title. This time, though, the victory felt even sweeter and his father and mother, Vinnie and Linda, were there to savour the success. His uncle, John Clohisey, who has long been one of his greatest supporters, was also there, as was John's son Vincent, who Mick endearingly refers to as 'My cousin Vinnie'.
There was a sweetness about his victory that he will remember for years to come. For a long time too, the voices of Dick and Pat Hooper will probably echo in his ears. The two Raheny Shamrock AC Olympians cheered him on as each lap unfolded. This was Mick Clohisey's special day in the sun – even if he was wearing shades.