'It's brought people together' - The world champion boxer working in a hospital during the pandemic

Kellie Harrington is combining training with seven-day work weeks.

Pictured is FBD Brand Ambassador and 2018 World Championship gold-medallist Kellie Harrington.
Pictured is FBD Brand Ambassador and 2018 World Championship gold-medallist Kellie Harrington.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE HAS BEEN plenty of justifiable doom and gloom in relation to the pandemic in recent weeks, particularly when it is assessed in a sporting context.

So it’s refreshing to hear an athlete say that, on a certain level, for all its obvious ills, there have been enjoyable aspects to this unique time too.

“I’m taking full advantage of it,” says Kellie Harrington. “You have to take the positives out of a negative situation. And even on those negative days, you have to try your best to be positive and to keep moving forward.”

It already feels like a lifetime ago, when Harrington was in London, in early March, preparing to compete in Olympic qualifiers. Those plans were of course ultimately shelved owing to the coronavirus.

“I didn’t know what way to feel in those qualifiers,” she recalls. “Because we were half thinking: ‘Is it going to get cancelled today, is it going to get cancelled tomorrow?’ We didn’t really know what was happening, and it’s hard to try to do your usual routine when you have that stuff going on around you, so it felt weird and I was disappointed that I didn’t get to box, because they were the qualifiers obviously and that’s still hanging over my head.

“And there’s a load of athletes who have qualified already, and I would like to be one of those, so I don’t have to worry about the qualifying process and have it secured. But like me, there’s plenty of other people out there who haven’t qualified, so you’ve just got to get on with it.”

Like the rest of her Irish team-mates, Harrington spent the next two weeks in quarantine upon returning to Dublin and she has been restricted in her training since then. 

Her partner Mandy happens to be a boxing coach though, so she has still been able to get some sporting activity done in these unusual and unprecedented times.

“I have a bag out in my back,” she explains. “My partner does pads with me. I have a little small gym. My shed has turned into a gym for weights and air-conditioning sessions. I’m getting out and running. I’m still doing what I need to do. Now, I can do outdoor sessions with the coach as well, once we keep our distance, so it’s grand.”

Harrington may be an amateur boxer, but prior to the pandemic, she trained like a professional and her hectic schedule meant she could only accommodate work at weekends

At the moment, with her boxing requirements less intensive, she has increased her workload as a cleaner in St Vincent’s Psychiatric Hospital in Fairview.

“I went back into work [after the period of quarantine] when we came back from London. They needed me really and I’m glad to be back in doing something, not sitting at home. If I wasn’t in work, I’d probably end up over-training myself and being burnt out.

“It’s nice to be in work. It’s nice to feel normal and feel useful. Sometimes, when you’re an athlete, you don’t really feel as useful.

I’m doing seven days one week and I do three days the next week, so I have a routine going. On my seven days when I’m working, I’ll probably train once a day and take a few days off during the week if I’m really tired.

“Then, on my three-day week, I’ll do a lot more training and I’ll double up on my training some days — I’ll do two sessions a day.”

She continues: “I’ve been enjoying it. I’ve been having the best of both worlds really, because I’ve been feeling useful going into work, feeling like I’m needed, feeling normal, chatting with all the people, having the craic — we’re all trying to keep each other’s spirits up. Then I’m coming home and training. 

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“So I’m in a good place at the moment. And like every person, never mind every athlete, I have my ups and downs. And when I’m feeling kind of negative, I’ll pick up the phone and ring my family members, I’ll get on to my brother and he’ll remind me of why I do what I do and why I’m good at what I do. I’ll be kind of alright then.

“Everything has been really strict [in the hospital] with all the social distancing and everything. It’s been different. I know when I say it’s brought people closer together, I don’t mean [literally], but in terms of connection.”

Though she is “dying to get back sparring,” the 30-year-old Dubliner appreciates that she must wait that bit longer for the benefit of the greater good.

Something that hasn’t wavered in the meantime is her love of sport. In past interviews, Harrington has said boxing saved her. At 14, she left school and her life in Portland Row lacked direction, before the volunteers at a local club intervened and provided her with a purpose and a passion that ultimately led to a gold medal at the 2018 World Championships among many other accolades.

Does Harrington therefore fear for the 14-year-old equivalent of herself now, who cannot find refuge in the boxing clubs during this pandemic?

The worry is there,” she says. “But what I will say is I know for a lot of clubs, they’re doing online sessions, like Facebook videos, Zoom chats and stuff. They are doing a lot of that, so the coaches are still staying in contact with the kids and their parents. In that sense, it’s okay, but for kids who would have liked to join a club roughly around this time, I do think it’s a bit of a problem. 

“Sport, all over Ireland, but particularly in the inner-city, it plays a massive role in children’s lives. So the sooner we can get back up and running, the better.”

FBD Insurance is a principal partner to Team Ireland since September 2018. As part of its sponsorship, FBD is supporting Team Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls to enable them to focus on personal bests and breakthrough performances at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo which will now take place in 2021. It is this same spirit of support and protection that sees FBD as Ireland’s only homegrown insurer support more than 500,000 policyholders for over 50 years.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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