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A day in the life of Tori Pena, one of Ireland's great medal hopes for Rio

A behind the scenes look at the life of a professional athlete.

Pena in action.
Pena in action.
Image: Ian MacNicol/INPHO

MEET TORI PENA, the American-born Irish woman who hopes to compete in her second Olympics this year.

Her backstory is intriguing; of growing up in California but choosing to represent Ireland thanks to her Derry-born grandmother and even representing Ireland at the World Irish dancing championships.

There’s the fact she’s competing in a sport the average Irish sports fan knows nothing about while since her maiden Olympic appearance in 2012, she’s added a degree in International development studies to her name.

For now, the education is parked as training full-time takes up most of the hours she’s presented with. Here is how she uses them:

8.00-8.30am: I really value my sleep so I try and get around nine hours, sometimes more!

I typically wake up around 8am and the first thing I have is a hot cup of water. It’s good for digestion and I love the ritual of a warm drink in the morning.

I’m not super sensitive to caffeine so I try and limit consumption so it actually has an effect on me when I need it!

8.30-9am: Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and I take it pretty seriously. For my go-to breakfast I poach eggs over sautéed bell peppers, broccoli, onions and maybe some sweet potatoes.

It’s a hearty breakfast and it keeps me going through my morning workout. While I’m making my breakfast I pack a lunch to bring to the track to eat between workouts.

Tori Pena after failing to qualify Pena during the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing last year. Source: Ian MacNicol/INPHO

10.30am: I head to the track to start my session.  Every day varies in terms of what workout I might have.

Here’s an example of a typical session. Everything starts with warm-up drills followed by dynamic stretching. If something is feeling a bit tight I might get some therapy from one of the coaches/therapists.

For a speed development day, I would warm up with a few strides to make sure everything feels good and then get into the actual workout: 3-4 x 3 x 30m sprints.

After the sprints are completed I’ll do some light plyometric work, something like 5×3 hops over hurdles.

1pm-1.30pm: By this time I’ve completed my track workout and I’m usually pretty hungry.

I’ll eat my lunch on the track that I’ve have packed for the day. I like packing salads with lots of goodies; quinoa, chicken, kale, artichokes and goat cheese.

Plus some more snacks to keep me going throughout the day. I might have a protein bar or nuts and dried fruit. This is a nice time to chat and catch up with my training partners, go over the week and plan any trips we might have coming up.

2pm: The gym is right around the corner from the track so it’s an easy commute. We do a short warm-up again and get into the Olympic lifts followed by some supplementary lifts.

I’ve really learned to love weightlifting over the years, not only is it a good way to build strength, but it’s perfect for maintaining fitness and preventing injury as long as you don’t over-do it.

3.30-4pm: I’ve finished my workouts for the day and now it’s time to recover. I like to spend some time in the hot and cold baths at the gym.

Having finished my workout, I’m looking forward to a shower and clean clothes. I might catch up on errands or emails, or I might just chill and read.

Again, I’ll have something to snack on, maybe yogurt and berries, or a protein shake.

Tori Pena 4/8/2012 Pena after a disappointing performance in London. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

6-7pm: Dinner time. I love cooking but generally I keep it pretty simple when I’m cooking for myself. Maybe some baked pesto chicken and veggies all plopped in the oven together and a bit of something sweet for dessert.  I try not to eat too much sugar, but I’m always craving a little something sweet after dinner.

After dinner I’m either calling family home in California, reading a book or watching TV. Then it’s into bed around 10.30pm.

Pena is 28 years of age and is the first to admit London in 2012 was something of a disaster where she failed to advance from the qualifying rounds.

But she’s taken the requisite steps in the meantime to ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated – but she’s always remembering to keep having fun too.

Football, figure skating and gymnastics also took her fancy, though nothing compared to the Olympics.

To switch off she loves to read and is “guilty of quite watching quite a few TV shows.”

Right now she’s into the final season of Downton Abbey while other things to occupy her are crosswords and sudokus.

“My mornings are slow and enjoyable,” she says.

“I love working on the crossword or suduko while I eat my breakfast; it’s a bit of my morning ritual, even though I’m pretty terrible at the crosswords.

“I think if I wasn’t a vaulter I might still be Irish dancing while in track I’d have loved to long jump a bit more.”

5 exercises in 10 minutes – try this glute workout from the comfort of your home

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