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Dublin: 4°C Sunday 17 January 2021

'What happens during your working day can affect you' - fulfillment and dark days in cancer prevention

Gailtír’s Áine Lyng talks about her job ahead of the All-Ireland intermediate club final.

GAILTÍR’S ÁINE LYNG has been fortunate to develop sporting interests that reinforce her appreciation for all she has.

aine-lyng Gailtír's Áine Lyng. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

She’s part of a successful Waterford camogie club who have reached back-to-back All-Ireland intermediate finals. Down’s Clonduff had their number in last year’s decider, but they’re back in search of redemption against St Rynagh’s of Offaly this time around.

There’s a warm sense of community spirit building in advance of the clash at Croke Park, and Lyng is particularly moved by the excitement among the local children who are cheering them on.

“I get a huge buzz off that,” she smiles, “a kid coming up to you and you’re like ‘it’ll be you in a few years, you’ll be taking my jersey.’”

Lyng lives in Naas at the moment, and splits her time between work in Dublin and camogie commitments in Waterford. But she previously lived in the UK for seven years, and during that time, she became interested in running. Ultra long-distance running to be precise.

It started out with 5km and 10km jaunts before she gradually moved up to marathon and ultra marathon distances. An ultra marathon is anything beyond the standard 42km length, and Lyng managed to run more than twice that. 

A 100km run sounds like a grueling pursuit, but on the day, Lyng was too enchanted by the natural beauty in her surroundings.

“My feet were pretty knackered after it,” she recalls. “I ate a lot along the way.

I found with the running is that when you go out, you think about everything and think about nothing. You just fall into the zone of living right now. ‘Look at what’s around me, it’s incredible.’”

Lyng’s job brings her plenty of fulfillment as well. As the cancer prevention officer in the National Cancer Control Programme [NCCP], Lyng’s work focuses on what factors affect the risk of cancer among people in Ireland.

“I look at what increases or decreases our population risk of cancer,” she explains to The42.

“One element of that is exercise. I’m an exercise physiologist and I used to work with patients using exercise to treat their condition.

“I now look at our population health and what we can do to increase or decrease their cancer risk. Physical activity being one of those, it decreases your risk of certain cancers. I’m involved in initiatives which try to ensure our population has access to being active, and that they have the knowledge that being active is good for your health.

It’s brilliant, I love it. And a lot of that is working with phenomenal people in the NCCP, and they care about you as a person. I’m lucky where I work and my job itself, I go from everything from the HPV vaccine to radon to sun protection to physical activity.”

Lyng also helps to devise initiatives that aim to reduce the risk of cancer among people across Ireland. She collaborates with a number of organisations too, including Healthy Ireland, the National Childhood Network and the GAA.

aine-lyng-clodagh-carroll-and-margo-heffernan-celebrate-after-the-game Gailtír players celebrate after winning the All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

“We’re working with the National Childhood Network that people who work in childcare know how important it is to protect kids’ skin. We work with the likes of the GAA so that when kids are attending summer camps that they protect their skins and that the kids aren’t out in the hottest rays of the sun when UV index is the highest.

“We’re very much look at it by area, by population, age and then we try to improve access. It’s very practical.”

Lyng’s job is at a population level now but during her seven-year stint in the UK, she worked more directly with patients on a one-to-one basis.

She worked across oncology, respiratory and cardiology departments where her expertise in sports physiology was also prominent. 

“It would be simple things like if someone was trying to get back to work after having heart by-pass surgery.

“We’d get them on a treadmill and get them to carry their shopping bags. Just to give them the confidence to go back to doing normal things in life.”

Lyng’s work enabled her to have a positive and lasting impact on the lives of those who were under her care.

But during those days, there were dark moments too. Healthcare professionals are trained to separate themselves from their patients, but Lyng says it’s human to have an emotional response in those circumstances.

It was a sobering experience for her, and sport was an important outlet for any troubling feelings she was carrying from work.

“It makes you appreciate what you have. Right now, health is good, things are good but I know that’s not the way it always is. And you make the most of what’s in front of your face. And when the bad days come, you deal with it and you bring in the support that’s around you.

“Your support network was something I took from my work in the UK. Your family, your friends; how important they are. The other bit [is to] appreciate things when they’re good. Bad days come to us all.

At the end of the day, we’re human and we have emotions and it’s ok to have emotions, and have that link with a patient. Because one of these days, I’ll be on the other side of the table and I’ll want whatever clinician is looking after me to have that heart. What happens during your working day can affect you.

“I’m lucky with sport, I have the outlet. I go, I put on a helmet, I get to run around a field and just park your working day.”

Lyng has been playing with Waterford for the last three years, while Gailtír’s exploits at county, Munster and All-Ireland level have certainly kept her busy too. She’s also getting married three weeks after the All-Ireland club final, just to ensure there’s no possibility of being idle.

“Sleep? What’s sleep? You don’t need it,” she laughs.

aine-lyng Lyng has played for Waterford for the last three years. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The speed and sharpness required to play camogie doesn’t quite merge well with the endurance involved in ultra marathon running. With that in mind, Lyng has parked the latter pursuit for the moment, while the small ball game takes centre stage in her life.

“I suppose, like any sportsperson, you like a challenge, and we like what we can do,” Lyng says, remarking on how ultra long distance running offered her a new way to test the limits of her body.

“It’s a buzz, the same buzz you get with camogie of ‘jeez yeah, my body did that.’

“It’s very hard to put that that rush of adrenaline into words. Now to be honest, the camogie gives me a bigger buzz than the running did because you’re with your family and your friends. But you look back and think ‘that was lovely to do.’”

After losing out to Clonduff in last year’s All-Ireland final, Gailtír exacted some revenge on the Down champions in this year’s semi-final, although Lyng is respectful to their northern rivals, calling them an “incredible team.”

She adds that the team adopted a “step by step” approach to this year’s campaign and opted to focus on the games in front of them rather than fixate about writing the wrongs from 2019.

They also have previous with this year’s All-Ireland final opponents, St Rynagh’s. The sides met in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final when the Waterford side came out on top.

“It’s an honour isn’t it?” says a humbled Lyng as the 2020 Croke Park decider draws near.

So many players would kill to be in our position and get to play in Croke Park, not just once but twice in your club jersey.

“It’s lovely. The community support has been incredible. Gailtír encompasses four different parishes so you’ve got people from each area and the little bit of excitement. People are very generous as well, it’s an expensive enough thing to get to an All-Ireland final. We’ve had people give donations to us. That’s community support.”

You can find out more information about the National Cancer Control Programme here.

Gailltír’s Áine Lyng was speaking ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Sunday, 1 March where the Waterford club will face St. Rynagh’s of Offaly.

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