The pull of sport

Row­ers Gary and Paul O’Dono­van say ben­e­fits from sport far ex­ceed the fleet­ing joy of a big win. Áilín Quin­lan re­ports

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Feature - Pic­ture: An­dres Poveda

OLYMPIC sil­ver medal­lists Gary and Paul O’Dono­van, who carved out glit­ter­ing na­tional and in­ter­na­tional ca­reers in row­ing, are now urg­ing chil­dren to get in­volved in sports at a young age.

The duo, who re­cently took sil­ver in a ter­rific World Cup race in Poz­nan, Poland, started out in the sport very early on — they first han­dled oars when they were both in pri­mary school.

Eight years later they rowed for Ire­land for the first time. “We started row­ing in 2001 and we rowed for Ire­land for the first time in 2008. Our Dad was in­volved in the lo­cal row­ing club and he‘d bring us in with him, and we saw peo­ple train­ing and rac­ing,” re­calls Gary, now 24, who is cur­rently plan­ning to re­turn to col­lege - ei­ther at his alma Mater, Cork In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, or at Univer­sity Col­lege Cork - to be­gin a mas­ter’s de­gree.

“I was about eight and Paul was about seven when we first started row­ing with Sk­ib­bereen Row­ing Club.

“We were also in­volved in foot­ball, soc­cer and rugby we did ev­ery­thing! Even when we were row­ing we were do­ing other sports, but even­tu­ally the row­ing took over.”

Their com­ments come at a time when ex­perts are re­port­ing a dra­matic rise in chil­dren’s seden­tary be­hav­iour - a re­port pub­lished just last month (May) by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion which looked at the preva­lence of child­hood obe­sity from 2002 to 2014 found the con­di­tion was on the rise among ado­les­cences and that the vast ma­jor­ity of young peo­ple were fail­ing to take rec­om­mended lev­els of daily ex­er­cise. Wor­ry­ingly, re­searchers found that up to two-thirds of chil­dren were spend­ing two or more hours a day on com­put­ers, tablets or smart­phones. The study warned that it’s now es­ti­mated that one in three ado­les­cents in Europe are over­weight or obese.

Ex­er­cise is cru­cial for chil­dren for sev­eral rea­sons.

Gary re­calls that play­ing sports as young boys, helped the broth­ers burn off their very large amounts of sur­plus en­ergy. ABOVE: Gary and Paul O’Dono­van pic­tured at St. Joseph’s BNS sports day in Car­rick­macross, Co. Mon­aghan with sixth class pupils Marten Looke (12) and Fi­achra O’Gor­man (12). FBD In­sur­ance pre­sented the stu­dents with new sports equip­ment, as part on their ini­tia­tive ‘Choose Sport’ which aims to en­cour­age the next gen­er­a­tion to par­tic­i­pate in sport.

Another plus was the fact that they al­ways played sports in the com­pany of friends: “We started bring­ing our friends with us to the row­ing club and they started row­ing with us.

“They were in the boat with us and we loved be­ing ac­tive and be­ing out­side.

“We were al­ways very ac­tive any­way, and we loved be­ing out­side and loved be­ing out on the wa­ter.

“We loved ex­er­cise and we had our friends with us and we de­vel­oped a huge pas­sion and love of row­ing.”

Start­ing sports at a young age, ac­cord­ing to Paul, 23, who has just fin­ished his fi­nal phys­io­ther­apy ex­ams at UCD, has other ben­e­fits too:

“You learn time man­age­ment and or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“Ev­ery­one has to set goals.

“The goals have to be ap­pro­pri­ate, and chil­dren will take re­spon­si­bil­ity for a goal they have been in­volved in set­ting for them­selves.

“If chil­dren achieve a goal

they’ll have a sense of sat­is­fac­tion in hav­ing done it.

“If they don’t achieve it, they’ll be dis­ap­pointed and that’s ok too be­cause you won’t al­ways reach your goals.

“So chil­dren learn to try harder and keep prac­tis­ing and kids fig­ure all of this out them­selves.”

How­ever, he em­pha­sises, it’s im­por­tant that the goals are ap­pro­pri­ate and that chil­dren en­joy what they’re do­ing:

“It’s al­ways good to chal­lenge chil­dren, but they have to be happy to be do­ing it! “It’s very im­por­tant for chil­dren to learn to set goals in sports, and what Gary and I have learned is that you can carry that goal-set­ting into later in life.”

It’s a good idea for chil­dren to try as many sports as they can, Paul adds - for years, he and Gary played many dif­fer­ent sports. “It’s im­por­tant to have a healthy life­style and to try dif­fer­ent sports and find one that suits you.”

How­ever, cau­tions Gary, it’s not a case of giv­ing chil­dren a list of sports to work through un­til they find one that suits - it’s more holis­tic than that:

“Kids are nat­u­rally in­clined to be ac­tive. You don’t have to try ev­ery­thing and pick one.

“Some peo­ple like to do sev­eral dif­fer­ent sports, and this doesn’t end with sports it ap­plies to every as­pect of life - for ex­am­ple, you’ll study a broad range of sub­jects at school and in col­lege. It doesn’t have to be just one sport!” Fun is a cru­cial el­e­ment, how­ever, as Gary em­pha­sises:

“Fun is part of a kid’s na­ture. When Paul and I were grow­ing up, row­ing was fun. It was some­thing we liked do­ing, and with our friends, it was great. It was the same with foot­ball -we wanted to be with our friends and run around a field!

“Kids don’t en­joy do­ings things if they’re not fun to do and they’re not happy do­ing it”

He says en­joy­ment has been key to him and his brother, with whom he of­fi­cially teamed up in 2015 ahead of the 2016 Olympics:

“We al­ways try to have as much fun as we can!”

The O’Dono­vans re­cently joined forces with FBD In­sur­ance to en­cour­age chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate in sport from a young age through its Choose Sport ini­tia­tive which is us­ing a va­ri­ety of so­cial me­dia plat­forms to pro­mote this mes­sage.

As part of the drive, the broth­ers re­cently pre­sented the stu­dents of St Joseph’s BNS, Car­rick­macross, with new sports equip­ment and joined them for their an­nual sports day.

Sports has brought tremen­dous ben­e­fits for the duo, who were born and reared at Lisheen near the West Cork town of Sk­ib­bereen.

But it’s not just the tro­phies and the ac­claim that come from win­ning sil­ver at the 2016 World Row­ing Cup, and that same year, gold at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships and sil­ver at the 2016 Rio Olympics - not to men­tion a mem­o­rable ap­pear­ance on the Gra­ham Nor­ton Show.

For Gary, sport is also about the peo­ple he meets and all that trav­el­ling he gets to do. “Sports is our lives. We’ve grown up do­ing this - it’s all we know and what we re­ally en­joy is that we meet loads of peo­ple.

“When we were small and right through our ado­les­cence we were go­ing around the coun­try row­ing and meet­ing peo­ple ev­ery­where we went.

“More re­cently we’ve been trav­el­ling to in­ter­na­tional events and mak­ing friends all over the world..”

Gary high­lights other, less ob­vi­ous, but pro­found ben­e­fits: “For me, sports helped build char­ac­ter - you learn about things like goalset­ting and plan­ning to achieve your goals and you experience hap­pi­ness when you achieve them and dis­ap­point­ment when you don’t!” The duo plan to con­tinue their sched­ule of row­ing and study for some years to come.

“At the mo­ment we are trav­el­ling a lot - to races and train­ing camps - but we will be go­ing back to col­lege,” says Gary, who plans to be­gin a post­grad­u­ate de­gree, pos­si­bly in mar­ket­ing.

Paul too is en­joy­ing a sum­mer of row­ing - with Gary he will be at­tend­ing a slew of re­gat­tas and train­ing camps in ad­vance of the world cham­pi­onships - but like his older brother, he is plan­ning for some years of post-grad­u­ate study.

“I’m wait­ing for my exam re­sults and I will row for the sum­mer,” he says, adding that for the time be­ing, he will be fo­cus­ing on rac­ing.

“I’d like to go back to col­lege and fur­ther my ed­u­ca­tion by do­ing a post-grad­u­ate de­gree - a mas­ter’s de­gree in the area of phys­io­ther­apy. I en­joy the work. So we will be con­tin­u­ing the row­ing in tan­dem with our stud­ies for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”


now have friends ev­ery­where and we still meet them at re­gat­tas for events and are still friends with them

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