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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 20 September, 2019
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'I've got to a point with athletics where I want to see how far I can get'

Sarah Healy is one of Ireland’s brightest young talents and is hoping to kick on further when she starts college.

LIKE THE THOUSANDS of students preparing to embark on their college adventure, Sarah Healy finds herself in that in-between period of the summer, between Leaving Cert results, CAO offers and the start of term.

Healy doesn’t begin first-year inauguration for a couple of weeks, having secured her first-choice preference to study law at UCD, where she has also been accepted on the Ad Astra Academic scholarship programme.

spar-cross-country-xperience-launch Sarah Healy pictured in Abbotstown this week. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

As is the case with any change, there is still a degree of uncertainty for the 18-year-old heading into the next chapter of her life, and the chief concern is taking to the course she picked, although Healy has previously shown she is more than equipped to adapt to whatever challenge is next.

With a total of 601 Leaving Cert points, it would have been acceptable for Healy to allow herself a night off to celebrate the results, but a phone call from her coach that same day presented one of Irish athletics’ brightest rising stars with an opportunity too good to turn down.

Whatever celebrations she missed out on by having her Mum collect her early on results night, Healy more than made up for later that week when she made her Diamond League debut in Birmingham, where she ran a personal best of 4:40.72 over a mile.

“Results were slightly different for me,” she laughs. “I still got to go out with my friends but my Mum had to come and collect me early. I’m used to it now and my friends understand, so it’s fine. 

“I was really grateful for the opportunity in Birmingham. It would have better if I ran well, but it was cool just to be there anyway. Even in the hotel the night before, just seeing the other athletes getting their dinner, I was just like ‘oh my God, this is so cool.’

“To see them all in the warm-up area, it was just really interesting to see. It wasn’t even as nerve-wracking as I thought. Just such a good experience and really valuable regardless of how I ran.”

Healy was then due to complete her season at last Wednesday’s Morton Games but the year had taken its toll and she withdrew due to illness, giving herself an extra few days off to take stock and prepare for what’s next.

The break couldn’t have come at a better time for Healy, after an incredibly busy 12 months which saw her combine study and athletics, albeit to considerable success given results both on and off the track.

Although she won a sixth consecutive Irish Schools Cross Country title in the Holy Child Killiney colours and collected a senior indoor bronze medal, there is a tinge of disappointment in Healy’s voice when she reflects on 2019.

Shortly after completing her Leaving Cert at the end of June, Healy won European U20 Championship silver in the 1,500 metres and then followed that up with her maiden senior title at the National Championships in Santry in the colours of Blackrock AC. But she wanted gold in Sweden.

“This year I had a good season and I had some good moments but I was also definitely disappointed at times,” she says, in typically self-effacing fashion.

Either way, that’s all in the rearview mirror now for Healy. A new, exciting chapter awaits as she prepares to throw herself into athletics full-time while studying in UCD, having previously always played ‘three or four’ other sports in school, including hockey.

gettyimages-1162828668-594x594 In action during the U20 European Athletics championships. Source: European Athletics

Given Healy’s outstanding success at junior level, there was naturally interest from America and the offer of college scholarships from across the Atlantic, but the Monkstown native was more than happy to remain at home and continue her development here.

“I was actually never really tempted by it,” she says of a move to the States. “I never seriously considered going, to be honest. I have such a great coach here and I live in Dublin, I don’t have to move or anything to go to college.

“Everything is kind of working here so I never really felt the need to change it up. It works for some people and it doesn’t work for others. I just don’t think it was for me at this point.

“I can use the facilities out here in the Institute of Sport and then I’m on a scholarship in UCD. The facilities there are great and I’ll have everything I need. The main thing, my coach Eoghan Marnell, I don’t want to be coached by anyone else. I know that he can get me where I want to go.”

Above all, Healy is just excited to see what happens now that she can focus all her energy and time on athletics, having admittedly let the Leaving Cert take precedence over training last year.

She continues: “Hopefully, I’ll have a lot more time just to do things properly. Obviously I do all my training but even with strength and conditioning, it was always the first thing to go when I was busy in school. Even just being in college, I’ll have more flexibility to train. I’ll be able to do things better this year and won’t be as rushed.

This will be my first year just doing running. I want to try and put a little bit more into it and see how much better I can get. I’ve only really run seriously for two years, but the more I’ve done it, the more I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve got to the point where I know I want to keep going with it to see how I far I can get.

Healy’s potential knows no bounds. Her talents had been marked for some time, but last summer she hit the headlines for breaking a host of records over multiple distances, before blitzing the rest of Europe to further underline her prodigious talent with a memorable long-distance double at the U18 European Championships.

Thus followed another brilliant summer for the teenager, although she knows that podium finishes at junior level are no guarantee of success at senior, with Irish athletics littered with stories of expired potential down through the years.

“I kind of hate when people talk about it,” she laughs. “I always say I don’t want to be that girl who peaks when she’s 17. I talk about it with my coach a good bit and we know it can happen if you’re training like a senior when you’re junior but I definitely haven’t been doing that.

“Each year, I’ll add a little bit more. I don’t feel too anxious about it. I know it won’t be perfect but hopefully, I can make that transition. Each year of good training will make you stronger for the next year and if we can keep putting them together, hopefully it’ll all work out.”

sarah-healy-on-her-way-to-winning-the-womens-1500m-race Healy won the national 1,500m title at Morton Stadium in July. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The key for Healy is to keep doing what she has been doing. Staying in Dublin to work under Marnell is part of that, as is maintaining a healthy social life away from athletics, even if hockey has been sacrificed.

“I’ll still have other distractions so it’s not like running will be the only thing in my life,” Healy explains, with her head firmly screwed on. “That’s important.

“I’ll be in college and that will take up some of my time. Most of my friends are not in athletics and that’s a good balance. That keeps me distracted. I might stay involved in hockey in some way, I might coach or something but I know I’ll have enough distractions so it doesn’t become too pressurised.”

In the short-term, Healy will enjoy her two weeks off running, during which she will attend Electric Picnic, before the new term in UCD begins and the focus turns to the upcoming cross-country season. 

“I just want to improve on this year,” she adds, before we talk long-term ambitions.

“Obviously everyone says the Olympics. I guess I’d love to just go to senior championships and be competitive. The Olympics is the main one but I’d like to be an athlete that competes on the world stage and I want to see how fast I can go and to just get the best out of myself.”

Irish international athlete Sarah Healy was on hand to launch the SPAR Cross Country Xperience which will take place at the Sport Ireland National Sports Campus on Sunday, 20 October 2019. More details here.

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Ryan Bailey

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