Wednesday 21 March 2018

High-flying McCullough masters multiple tests

Jack McCullough tops the podium after winning the Michael O'Hare 10km Ulster Open Lake Swimming Championship.
Jack McCullough tops the podium after winning the Michael O'Hare 10km Ulster Open Lake Swimming Championship.
Jack McCullough stands proud in his Ireland tri suit ahead of the European Championships in Bratislava.

To say that it's been a summer of planes, trains and automobiles for local triathlete Jack McCullough would be a huge understatement.

However, all the travelling has proved worthwhile and the reigning Drogheda Independent Coca-Cola Young Sport Star of the Year has the medals to prove it!

The Clogherhead teenager, competing for Drogheda Triathlon Club, was Ireland's sole qualifier for the Elite Junior European Aquathlon Championships held in Bratislava, Slovakia, even though he has another two years to compete at this level.

Despite suffering a shoulder injury a couple of weeks earlier, he took his place at the start alongside 50 qualifying athletes from around Europe,

In temperatures of around 28 degrees Jack got caught up in the traffic from the gun running into the lake and he emerged from the water after the 1,000m swim in 14min 10sec. His transition was fast and he headed out onto the flat, fast run in the hot conditions and achieved a solid time of 18min 33sec, passing out many of his competitors to finish a gallant 28th.

Jack also had the privilege to represent his country on a four-man Irish team at the World Youth Mountain Running Championships over the summer.

Just getting to the south of Italy proved a massive challenge, however, as a problem with his alarm led to Jack narrowly missing his flight.

A gruelling 36 hours of travel followed as he raced to join up with the Irish team. He managed to fly later in the day from Dublin Airport to Rome, but with no connecting flight available he had to take a train, four buses and a taxi before meeting up with the squad!

The race was held in Gabriano Del Capo in the far south of Italy and conditions were severe, with a start time of noon and temperatures peaking at 38 degrees.

Already tired from all the travelling, Jack put on the Irish jersey and gave it his best shot, finishing second best of the Irish - a massive feat given his chaotic pre-race preparations.

On the domestic scene Jack had a busy summer, winning Junior titles in the Boyne 2.7km swim and 2.5km Clogherhead 'Round the Head' Sea Swim.

He was third senior in the 1500m 'Giant of a Swim' at Camlough Lake in Northern Ireland and won the Senior Men Wetsuit 4km Sea Swim from Rostrevor to Warrenpoint.

On the running scene Jack was first Junior in the Dunleer AC 4-mile road race and part of the winning senior team. He was third senior in the 'Oran Foundation' 8km road race in Stabannon and fourth senior in his first 10km road race in Clogherhead.

After all that international and domestic experience, Jack switched his focus to the Triathlon Ireland National Aquathlon Championships in Athlone. He was entered in the 17 to 19-year-old category, competing two years out of his age, and athletes in this group compete in the same race as the seniors.

This was Jack's first time competing nationally in the senior category over a 1,000m swim and 5km road race and it brought together more than a hundred of Ireland's best swimmers and runners.

The swim was fast and frantic from the gun as the waters were choppy in Lough Ree. First to emerge from the water was hot favourite on the day Con Doherty (former Junior European gold medallist and World silver medallist), closely followed by a group of nine swimmers with a long list of All-Ireland Swimming titles.

Jack emerged from the water in a time of 13min 40sec and was 10th out of transition as he headed onto the tough hilly 5km course where he ran the race of his life to win the 17-19 All-Ireland title.

To everyone's surprise on the day he took second place overall in the Senior event, just behind Doherty, having knocked 30 seconds off his 1,000m swim best and a whopping one minute off his 5km aquathlon run at 17min 33sec.

Most recently, Jack swam in the Camlough Lake Northern Ireland Lake Swimming Championships and on the Saturday he came third in the Senior Men's 3km race.

The following day the Clogherhead youngster swam his first 10km lake swim, coming home in 2hr 33min to win the Michael O'Hare 10km Ulster Open Championship.

Jack is a member of Drogheda Triathlon Club and scholarship programme who have supported Jack over the past year with training, coaching, club gear and support on his international and domestic events. He is also a member of Dunleer Athletic Club.

Jack would like to thank everyone who sponsored him for his international trips - Drogheda Triathlon Club, Fisherman's Co-Op Clogherhead, Eammon Victory/Centra Dunleer, The Fisherman's Catch Clogherhead, Local Clogherhead Councillor Tom Cunningham, Sinn Fein TD Imelda Munster and all those who gave personal donations.

Drogheda Independent