How I stay healthy — Caitríona Cosgrave, teacher
By her own admission, Caitríona Cosgrave was not a sporty child.
“I tried out for athletics but was never fast enough,” she says.
Not that you would ever guess it; the national school teacher is now a member of Portmarnock running club in Dublin and this year is embarking on triathlons.
“I started running for fitness but then I became involved, and I wanted to relay that back to the children,” she says.
Under the stewardship of her school principal, Clodagh O’Gara, of Scoil Áine national school in Raheny, Dublin, Caitríona is part of the school’s ‘Active Schools’ team and teaches athletics via an after-school club to over 120 girls, ranging from third to sixth class.
“When I became a teacher,” Caitríona says, “I wanted to make sure PE was for all children. I wanted to get away from the idea that a school would be lauded for its achievement in competitive sports and instead would achieve getting as many children as active as possible.” The after-school club, she says, is for everyone.
With a background in dance, Caitríona says she was “outside her comfort zone” when she opted to take a master’s in physical education as part of her teacher training in 1999, “but that’s why I went into it”.
“Being a good physical educator is not about being into organised sports. It’s about imparting a love of activity and letting children know there are lots of things they can be involved in. Exercise has to be something that is fun,” she says.
In terms of her personal focus, running is Caitríona’s main activity. In the past few years, however, she says that regular yoga classes have changed her approach to keeping fit. “I am high-energy but yoga has shown me that fitness is more than just about the body. You have to train the mind too.”
She makes time for spontaneous, five-minute physical activity breaks in her classes throughout the day, via the school’s Get Up and Dance initiative. “I call it ‘exercise smuggling’,” Caitríona says, smiling. Her hope, she says, is that exercise becomes habitual for her students.
“If it becomes as much a part of your day as eating and drinking, it ceases to be a thing you ‘have to’ do. It’s just part of your natural pattern. That took a while for me to achieve.
“Everyone feels better after exercise but it’s hard at the start. You enjoy your dinner more; you enjoy your shower more; it’s good for mental health. For the girls in school, I would hope the biggest message is that ‘I can be active no matter what I look like or act like’. There wasn’t a facility for me to continue running at primary school because I wasn’t on the team. I tell them that will never happen to them.”