Friday, August 10, 2012

Local Hero

I feel like lodging a complaint with the International Olympic Committee. You see, they went and organised the London 2012 games to overlap with my traditional summer vacation dates. In recent times, I take the first two or three weeks of August off work. This year it means that I'm on vacation for the second week of the games of the 30th Olympiad - that crucial week when so many events reach their climax and we witness the heroic feats of the world's greatest athletes and sports people as they vie for Olympic gold, silver or bronze.

I can usually take or leave the first week of the games. The opening ceremony is usually a highlight (and what a highlight it was of these games). However, I always enjoy the last week of the games as track and field comes into its own and we reach, as they say, the 'business end' of things.

Now, I can understand if, at this point, you have little sympathy for me. "What could be better," I hear you say - a whole week to simply kick back, loll in front of the telly box and soak up the ubiquitous coverage on the major channels. Oh that it were so. The problem is I'm not at home. I am holidaying in the kingdom of Kerry. Let me be honest - this in itself is not an issue. There are few more beautiful places on the planet to spend a week of your time. And sure don't I have my fruity smartphone and my brand new iPad with me. With these modern technological wonder-gadgets I can have on-demand audio and video updates on proceedings in the east end of London. Alas, not to be. The availability of the necessary high-speed 3G data network in the kingdom is, shall we say, sparse. All part of the charm, I suppose!

The real issue is that I'm not in my home town of Bray, the reason being that the mother of all parties is taking place there this week. Our very own Katie Taylor, already a world champion at her chosen sport, made it through the final of the women's lightweight boxing event. At the very least we were going to have an Olympic silver medalist in our midst. Not only will I miss the great atmosphere back home (and I know it's great because my friends keep reporting on how great it is!) but I'm unlikely even see the final itself.

Yesterday, August 9th, the day of Katie's final. The weather is up in Kerry and we take ourselves off on a trek to Rossbeigh beach. There, on a very rare day of sunshine and warmth, we forget about all outside influences and enjoy the moment. 4.30pm and time to leave for our rented house back in Kenmare. Then I remember - the fight is due at 4.45pm and there's bound to be a pub in nearby Glenbeigh - with a telly. Sure enough, we find a crowd rapidly building in O'Suileabhean's for the big event, something that was undoubtedly repeating itself in pubs, communities and indeed anywhere across Ireland where people could get near a TV. Even before the first punch is thrown it is already apparent that this young lady from Bray has already won the hearts of the nation.

Katie has built a 2 point leading going into the final round. It's nail-biting stuff. The final round seems too close to call. The Russian opponent is claiming victory. We must await the referee to raise the hand of the winner. After what seems like an eternity, the referee final raises the arm of the young lady in red. Yes - Katie has done it. Olympic champion. O'Suileabhean's in Glenbeigh erupts and there's hardly a dry eye in the house. I can only imagine what it is like back home in Bray.

This is a remarkable sporting achievement on many levels. How often we have seen world champions fail to reach the pinacle on the Olympic stage. No so for Katie. She has proved her champion status beyond any doubt. For me, perhaps the most remarkable aspect can be best appreciated by taking a visit to Bray harbour. As you approach the bridge that crosses to the north pier you will pass a small and very unremarkable building on your left - so unremarkable that you might miss it. That is Katie's training facility. For me, the key point is this - facilities do not produce true champions. They are important, yes, and we should be looking to provide the right infrastructure to nurture up and coming talent, in all fields of endeavour. However, the fundamental thing is what comes from within - the stuff of champions. Katie has shown the tenacity, self-belief and single-mindedness that it takes to succeed and rounds it all off by being a truly nice person as evidenced whenever you see and hear her in the media spotlight and, even more importantly, when she is not in the spotlight. She is and will be an inspiration to young people as they dream of what they one day may do.

The homecoming celebration is scheduled for next Monday. We'll be back home from our adventures in Kerry, ready to join with the crowd to welcome home our Katie and to celebrate her achievements. I suppose her sporting career is at a crossroads now - where does she go from here? Where can she go from here? One thing is certain though - she has achieved her place in sporting history and in the hearts of a nation.

Katie Taylor - local hero, sporting legend, national treasure.


  1. Great stuff, John. You summed it up perfectly. Katie did us all proud :)

  2. Lovely blog post, John. Well done. My daughter has been working in Thomas St for the summer, and really wanted to be in Bray in time for Katie's...fight?...match?...bout?. However daughter couldn't leave her job 'till 4. She took the car instead of the bus, but realised that getting to Ballywaltrim by 4.45 wasn't possible. She picked me up at Leeson St, and we 'landed' at the Stillorgan Park Hotel.

    I had no desire whatsover to watch the match - previously when Katie was boxing I'd taken to a quiet spot to pray! I'm afraid I only like to watch the Irish play sports when I already know the result. Cowardice personified!. However on Thursday I had to sit in the foyer of the Stillorgan Park while everyone (except me) watched the big screen. A notice had announced that the hotel was welcoming the Civil Partnership Reception of Karen and Tessy - and unfortunately, the happy couple arrived just before the third round of the boxing match. The beautiful bride said 'why is no-one looking at me?', to which a friend replied 'Katie's fighting!'. Thank God the couple's happy day wasn't marred by a disappointing Olympic result!

    I was in absolutel agony during the fight - it was a bit like being in the dentist when the anaesthetic isn't working! As soon as we were put out of our misery, daughter and I departed in haste for Bray - and got home just in time for the medal ceremony. What a moment!

    I've known Katie's mum for a good while - a lovely lovely lady. And truly Katie is not only an world-beating athlete, but also an exceptional person.

    I've read comments online from people who say that Katie is 'very religious'. The truth is - she's not! Someone on described her as a 'bible-believing Christian', and that is accurate. People like Katie say that it's not about religion - it's about relationship. Religion is man-made. Some would even contend that religion is evil. Sometimes the Roman Catholic Church is cited as an example of such, but to be fair, it's my experience that the Catholic church in Bray has taught about the love and grace of God. And whenever any group of people get together to worship God, there's the possibility that man will cause trouble by imposing rules and restrictions that are not compatible with the heart of God as revealed by Jesus Christ.

    But when I've heard people say that it'd be better if Katie Taylor 'toned down the Jesus talk', it makes me wonder. Every Christian denomination believes in the validity of the Bible. If we really believe that what Jesus said is true, then it's natural that we would be transformed by His words. Of course it's vitally important to love our neighbour - didn't Jesus tell us to do so? - but when I read the Old Testament, my over-riding conclusion is that God wants relationship with us. I reckon Katie's got in right.

    And now...from the sublime to the ridiculous - but very funny: When John Joe Nevin was in the semi-final yesterday, a guy in my work was attempting to watch the fight on the RTE website. This mild-manner individual suddenly let out a roar - 'Hit him John Joe - he's no f***ing relation!'.

    I do hope John Joe triumphs in his final match in an hour's time.

    But how lovely it is to be assured that Ireland has won at least one gold medal - thanks to our own lovely Katie.