Thursday 18 January 2018

Sport star!


DOUBLE MEDAL-WINNING Paralympian Catherine Walsh, pictured, was declared the overall Fingal Independent Sport Star of the Year, while taekwondo and athletics champion Anne-Marie Torsney won the Young Sport Star accolade.

Soccer manager and former League of Ireland player Liam Kelly entered the Hall of Fame. ON the back of claiming two cycling medals at the Paralympics in London last September, Catherine Walsh pulled off two more incredible doubles at the Clarion Hotel Dublin Airport on Saturday night.

Twelve years on from her last Fingal Independent Sport Star of the Year success, the Swords lass was crowned the overall winner of the prestigious gong for a second time, and she also formed part of another rare - if not unprecedented - double as two female nominees took home the two main prizes.

It was the perfect culmination to another amazing year for the 39 year-old - and one she didn't want to bid farewell to. 'Most people I know love to see the new year coming in, but I was so sad to see the back of 2012 because it was such an amazing year.

There were trying moments, but overall it was just a top year.' Like her Paralympic medal success, Catherine's Sport Star victory wasn't a new experience, but that didn't make it any less surprising or exhilarating.

'You never know how anything like this is going to go, but in work we get the paper every week and they were encouraging all our daycare clients to send in votes, so maybe that was it. It's a really nice surprise to win it again.' With her last success coming in 2000 following her Decathlon heroics at the Sydney Paralympics, Catherine explained how she ended up competing in the 2012 Games as a cyclist.

'I definitely retired from the international scene in 2005 and my son was born in 2006 and I really did only take up cycling by chance, as a stepping stone to triathlon - that was genuinely why I took it up! 'I stayed in Athletics for a few years [after Sydney], but the problem was there wasn't enough girls involved so I was going to have to start back at individual events. In Athens I did Long Jump and 400m and I just knew that I wasn't strong enough at any of those events to be truly competitive, so I decided in 2005 to retire and it was just by chance that I met one of the cycling guys in 2005 and he said they were looking for women to try and start the women's side of it.

'I didn't plan to take it as far as the Paralympics, but I think when you're a competitive person and you're given that opportunity you just can't resist it. You get into the training and then want to see how far you can push it. 'It's all been a bit of a fantastic nightmare at times, but it really was such a privilege to be part of the Irish team. In Beijing we had four bikes and three fifth places and we've just pushed on. We had seven bikes in London and took home five medals and Fiona and I also won the World Championships earlier in the year.'

London was a very different experience from Sydney and Beijing too, with the Games so close to home and the pressure to bring home a medal not nearly as intense as it was 12 years ago.

'Sydney for me was a relief that I had finally won the medal I always felt I was able to win and it definitely gave me the confidence to go on and do other things. Beijing was fantastic too, but London, the fact that it was in real time for people at home and a lot of families and supporters could be over there, it was just like having a home Games. The British put on such a good show, it was absolutely amazing. The Velodrome was electric. We had everything down to a fine art because at that point it's more of a mental challenge than a physical one - you just have to hold your nerve and stay relaxed and ride your own race. We were just delighted to do that. I know we didn't win the gold medal, but we did beat the old world record, which was our goal, and we beat the British on their own track, which was sweet too!'

The homecoming was out of this world too and while it has been a hectic few months since the Games, Catherine has savoured every minute of it. 'I decided I was going to take some time off and enjoy the celebrations and share it. Things I've really enjoyed doing was going into schools and doing question and answer sessions about what the experience was like and telling kids that no matter what you want to do if you keep trying and keep pushing yourself you'll get there.

I find it really hard to say no to people who ask me to go and do things because it could be the day you meet the next Katie Taylor or Anne-Marie Torsney - you might just light that spark in somebody and if you can do that, it's worth it. It's been an amazing few months, tiring at times, but brilliant.' So what next?

'People laugh at me because I was only back a few weeks when I got an e-mail saying swimming lessons were starting, and I said that was a sign to start the triathlon training. I'm hoping to do a few duathlons early in the season and I'm also planning to ride in the cycling road World Championships in Canada. I want to get back into running because I also enjoyed it and then combine the two a bit more. I'll wing a triathlon too at some stage, just to say I ticked that box because I'll be 40 this summer and that's what people do when they're 40!'

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