Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, I grew up playing football (Soccer) every waking hour of the day. It wasn’t until I hit my second year of secondary school (high school) that I started a journey down a different path.
My history teacher at the time saw I had some potential as a sprinter and asked if I would come to the local track after school and start training. I instantly fell in love with the sport. I loved every aspect of it. The hard work, having to drill over and over and over to get something right, having a track session and then going into the gym and giving my all.
I felt alive when I was training and competing. I learnt a lot about myself and anyone who has ever done track will know it can be such a harsh demanding sport. Being so demanding, it taught me how to persevere, how to mentally handle setbacks and have faith in knowing success is going from failure to failure without losing your drive and enthusiasm.
So fast forward a couple of years, I’m now out of school and I’m working in a career that I’ve always wanted – being a member of An Garda Síochána (Irish National Police service) To me, it was a perfect mixture of excitement, variety and most of all, I got great satisfaction out of doing something that mattered and helping people who really needed it.
It’s by no means a glamorous job. Despite what CSI Miami or COPS may lead you to believe, it’s 40% sitting in a car or walking a beat, 59% paperwork and 1% action. This is where my story starts, at the 1%.
Not a typical shift
On a late spring day in May, a colleague and I were called to a domestic abuse incident at a house in Dublin. Arriving to find an aggressive man armed with a chef’s knife and a frightened, injured woman, I did what any Garda would do and attempted to apprehend the suspect. During the incident that ensued, I sustained massive injuries to my hand which still leave me without function in my baby finger and thumb, and a lifetime of skin grafts and corrective surgery.
Despite the damage done to my hand, it wasn’t the physical damage that took its toll. It was the mental trauma that hit me hard. This started with night terrors. I would relive what happened that night, waking up and grabbing my hand thinking it had been wounded all over again. I would wake up thinking my bed was covered in my own blood, or that the suspect was in my room and he was going to attack me. I started having real trouble with sleep. Initially it was just the dreams, but then I would have anxiety attacks at the idea of going to sleep, knowing I would have to go through the same dreams over and over. I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep. I would watch the clock go from 3am to 4am and five minutes felt like an eternity.
Feeling like a prisoner in my own room, I started to go on drives. What started at drives around the area, turned into drives that lasted up to six hours. I would leave when it was dark and return home at sunrise.
Days, weeks and months would just mould into one. I started getting depressed. I stopped doing the things I loved. Panic attacks would hit me, and hit me hard. For anyone who doesn’t know what they are, it’s just the most overwhelming flood of emotions to experience. You can’t breathe, can’t move, you sweat profusely. It feels like someone is strangling you. To make it worse, the attacks would hit me without any notice or warning. Depression followed. I found it hard to keep going, living off of no sleep, not knowing when my next panic attack would hit. I just got into a dark place where I struggled to keep on going.
The lowest point for me was not when I thought about ending it all, but when I got to a point where I thought this would be the most logical step. For me, it stopped being scary and simply seemed a better solution than what I was going through.
I found myself standing at the edge of a platform waiting for a train to come rushing through. I was ready to take that step in front of it, that step which would give me peace from the hell I was living. I remember looking down at the bright light of the oncoming train, thinking this is going to be the end of the pain and struggle. Just before the train gets to the station, I heard a voice of a young child talking to her mother about how she was looking forward to her day out with mummy. I crumbled, I couldn’t do it in front of such a young person so I stood back and went back to my car and broke down.
It was after my deepest, darkest moment, just before I was about to take that step into doing something permanent that I made a deal with myself. I would make one last and real effort to break this cycle that I was living in.
Getting back up
I returned to the one thing I had…Sport. I started training again, hitting up the gym twice a week. A far shout from my past six days a week but it was a step. I had a moment one day. I had a playlist I would put on when I was in the gym, and one day it came on when I was in my room, and I felt something. I got excited about getting into the gym, I looked forward to pushing myself. I had five long years without feeling that excitement and now all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was to get into that gym.
I went from training two days a week, to four and then back to six days. My coach decided that I should try a few competitions. I couldn’t believe it, I’m back racing! I’m eating healthy and I’m starting to live again.
I made a massive decision to leave the Gardai. A job that I love and worked hard for and was so proud to do. I tried it all, moving to an office, changing station, I even asked for a career break so I could settle myself and return. I was refused the career break and to me that was the final nail in the coffin. I spent so long trying to return to myself.
My happiness and mental wellbeing meant more than any job. Being as close as I was to losing it all, I knew I needed to take the step to ensure a happy future. So I resigned.
Where Am I now?
I’m now training to get to the Winter Olympic games in a sport called Skeleton. I race down an ice track, the same track as a bobsleigh, head first, hitting speeds of over 145kph. I’m giving every ounce of energy I have to this. I have competed at World Championships, Europeans Championships and I am dedicating the next 4 years of my life to qualifying for the Winter Olympics in 2022. I’m self-funded and I’ve sold everything I can to fund this. I’ve blown through my life savings to fund my pursuit.
In the 2018 season, I was agonisingly close to qualification of the Olympic games, in my second competitive season! I was proud of how close I came, but I had a big decision to make, should I continue? Commit the next 4 years, fight for funding and support and take all the other life consequences of being a full-time athlete. Of course I will, I couldn’t turn my back on my sport.
I am so glad I stayed last season as I won my first career medal, broke personal bests everywhere and qualified Ireland for a World cup spot, first time since 2014. I am so thankful for everything that happened to me - it gave me the strength to handle 2018 and gifted me 2019.
I now understand how fragile life is, and I’m going to do this. I am training full time, I’ve hired my own nutritionist, I’ve hired my own coach and I’m putting my everything into being the most competitive Irish sled on circuit. My sporting goals aside I want, through my own experiences, for people to see that depression is tough but it’s not the end. I have not only overcome depression, PTSD, anxiety and insomnia, but I’ve learned so much about myself, and it’s even helped me cope with the high pressure world of competitive sports. If I can not only work through it, but go to represent my country at the Olympics in such a mentally demanding sport such as skeleton, anyone can come out the other side.
I consider myself very, very lucky that - chance encounter with that mother and daughter saved me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. Don’t leave it to chance, reach out for support. I’m making it a personal mission of mine to get this message out there.