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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 16 January 2021

From the Leaving Cert to the European Games in 5 days: Appiah scaling new heights for Longford

‘The thing is you get big support from people online, but at the events themselves there needs to be more bodies there.’

Longford high jumper Nelvin Appiah.
Longford high jumper Nelvin Appiah.
Image: Nelvin Appiah (@k0j0_appiah)

IT IS LITERALLY Nelvin Appiah’s job to scale new heights.

The Longford high jumper became the county’s first senior Irish international in 30 years when he excelled at the European Games in June.

Appiah made that bow just five days after finishing his Leaving Cert. It is a busy time for the 18-year-old but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m still competing in underage events but getting a taste for things at senior level too,” he says.

“It’s challenging but it’s also a great experience.

“And I have no doubt that if I keep getting experience like this it will help me get to where I want to go.”

Ultimately, that’s the Olympic Games.

Whether Tokyo comes too soon for him remains to be seen, but medium-term, Appiah wants to represent his country on that big stage as soon as possible.

“My plan is quite straightforward,” the high jumper and sprinter admits.

“The Irish Life Health National Championships take place at Santry at the end of the month and I want to PB (Personal Best) in the High Jump there at 2.5,” he adds.

“I am confident of doing that.

“If I can get there it will be another serious milestone in my development, and it will show people that I am going in the right direction.

“From there, the next landmark is my winter training programme and that will be crucial too.

“I have to work hard in this period to reach the goals that I have set myself long-term.”

Appiah also intends to take time out of his packed life schedule to pursue his dreams.

“I will look to take next year off and move closer to Sligo where my coach Dermot McDermott is,” he says.

“After that, the plan is to head to the US and hopefully secure a college scholarship.

“From there it’s about going up the levels.

“But the start of this process remains the Irish Life Health Nationals, that is my next stage to really test myself.”

Appiah’s family hail from Ghana. They lived for a few years in the UK before moving to Ireland and settling here.

Nelvin is proud to represent his county and is keen for all the support he can garner at the Irish Life Health Nationals.

“I was born in Longford and it’s all I know,” Nelvin continues.

“I played Gaelic football for years when I was younger and made the Longford development squads as well but when I got to school and went through the years I just decided to focus on athletics. But it’s some honour to represent the place you come from.”

nelv2 Appiah deep in training. Source: Nelvin Appiah (@k0j0_appiah)

Compared to the team environment Gaelic football creates, athletics is a pretty isolated gig.

Appiah admits there were times when he thought about jacking in the sport, but he says his mental strength always kept him in check.

“The thing is you get big support from people online and in social media, but at the events themselves there needs to be more bodies there,” he reckons.

“I know I respond better to big crowds.

The people and media in Longford have been great to me but it would be super to see them come and support me at Santry around the end of the month. That would mean a lot. I am representing them as well as myself.

Appiah says his family are fully on board with his plans for the future, though it took a while to get to that stage.

Early on he struggled to convince them that this was the route he would take in life.

“Since they have seen my progress and development, they have come on board fully,” he said.

But I guess your family’s job is to worry about you and that’s why they had concerns. It’s a tough business – there are no huge sponsorship deals, you train a lot by yourself, you make do with what you have. For instance, there are no suitable facilities for me in Longford, so I compensate by doing other stuff and going other places to get my work done.

“But the family have seen the sacrifices, they have seen the progress and they are right there with me. I’m proud of myself and my coaches and friends who have encouraged me and told me to keep going.

I look around at people my age and they feel a pressure to comply with different things. Some of them are pressurised by social media and the need to look good and portray a perception that everything is just brilliant in their lives.

“Others my age drop out of sports because their friends do.

“I’m a colourful character, I think, but I just like to work hard and then look back and reflect when the work is done. See where to go next. What to improve on. That’s real life and it’s substantial. It’s not fake. And while it can be lonely at times, maybe it’s a better road to take.”

nelv3 Appiah topped the podium in his last-ever Irish Schools. Source: Nelvin Appiah (@k0j0_appiah)

Appiah’s school years ended with him winning the All-Ireland Schools high jump gold with a best of 2.10 metres, a performance that set him up for his senior international debut.

“When I got the e-mail to go to the European Games at Minsk I was so happy,” he smiled. “Up against all those senior internationals.”

He performed impressively there, his third- and fifth-placed finishes earning 11 points for Ireland in the new Dynamic New Athletics competition.

“It was really special, especially as people were heading over to Minsk to qualify for the Olympic Games, and the experience will definitely stand to me,” he says.

The Irish Life Health Nationals on 27 and 28 July will be the next metric for his career.

So far, the graph is going only one way.

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Damian Lawlor

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