Teenage stars eye senior success with support from new academy
Four of the brightest young talents in Irish athletics received a welcome boost when they were announced as the first members of the Accelerator Academy, an initiative which will see them receive financial backing and off-track support to ensure a smoother passage to senior success.
Teenage stars Patience Jumbo-Gula, Sarah Healy, Rhasidat Adeleke and Sophie O'Sullivan shot to stardom over the summer by winning medals at either the European U-18 Championships or World U-20 Championships, and the four were selected by Olympians Sonia O'Sullivan and David Matthews, who teamed up to create the academy with backing from law firm Eversheds Sutherland.
For the next two years the four athletes will be given financial backing to cover costs incurred from training and competition, receive training for public speaking and also have the option of completing internships at Eversheds Sutherland or in other fields of interest.
The idea is to enhance their development as people, not just as athletes.
"The easy stuff to see is in training and racing but there's so many more hours to fill in the day," said Sonia O'Sullivan.
"If I was to back-track I possibly would have focused a bit more on the other side as well because you do find yourself at a loose end at times: what to do in the off-season and what to do between training sessions?
"It's important to have a balanced lifestyle and to have other interests and friends. This will help them spread their lives into other areas.
"These girls are on a very good progression but with that comes extra training, extra races and extra expense so they can qualify for these events. That's where this comes in - it can help assist and offset some of those costs for the family and coaches and the girls themselves."
For Matthews, a two-time Olympian and the Irish record-holder over 800m, the idea behind the academy is not to step on the toes of Athletics Ireland or Sport Ireland, but to help guide the athletes towards the summit.
"We identified a little gap in athletes' lives. It's the off-track activities that are our aim. If it was around for us during our time we certainly would have appreciated it and it helps steady the ship and provide these young girls with direction."
The Leaving Cert is looming for sixth-year students Healy and Jumbo-Gula - with both indicating UCD as a likely destination next year - but Adeleke and O'Sullivan will have another year before having to decide where the next step will take them.
Healy's medal tilt at last weekend's European Cross Country Championships didn't come off after a mid-race fall saw her lose contact with the leaders, but the 17-year-old plans to use that as fuel in the months ahead.
"It is a bit annoying because I worked really hard the whole winter but I didn't get to see what it amounted to because of what happened," she said.
"It makes me want to think about my next competition and to show what I can do."