As the rain began to fall in Borås, reminiscent of many training nights back home, it mar the start of the 800m, the final heptathlon event of the European Under-20 Athletics Championships. O’Connor had already given family, friends and fans plenty to cheer about up to this point: she had nabbed a huge javelin PB of 52.92m, breaking the Irish U23 and U20 records, and her 1.81m high jump PB was a serious highlight.
The gun went and 18-year-old O’Connor gave it everything, showing great tactical awareness and steely determination. Two laps of the sodden track later and the celebrations began in earnest. The Borås cloud had a silver lining!
O’Connor has become the only Irish woman to win a medal in this seven-event discipline, and to achieve in excess of 6,000 points, while simultaneously setting new Irish senior, U23 and U20 records, and PBs. She is a force to be reckoned with and a name to remember. Articulate, grounded, intelligent and fun, Kate is also a fearless competitor with an infectious enthusiasm for her sport. This young lady is an emerging superstar and you can’t help but feel that Borås was just the tip of the iceberg! In her own words, Kate gives us some insight into her life, her motivation, her training and her hopes for the future, as she commences training with Dr Toni Minichiello.
Balancing the books
During the school year, I was extremely busy. Trying to fit seven events around the Leaving Cert was definitely a challenge. To try and free up some time, I did a lot of training at home in 2019, which left room for studying. Generally, I would arrive home from school at 4:10pm, have my dinner at 4:15pm and leave to go to training at 4:30pm. The aim then was to try and get home for 7:30pm.
When at university, a big priority will be to continue to further my education; however, I’m also really looking forward to having a training group and new ideas. I hope to continue to grow within my event and compete with the best in the world. Linking up with Toni Minichiello, the former coach of my heroine Jessica Ennis-Hill (Olympic gold medallist in the heptathlon, 2012) is a dream come true.
My family play a huge role in my sport. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My dad, Michael, has coached me ever since I was young, and we have learned so much about each of the events together. He has helped me so much, not only by coaching me but by driving me to training sessions, competitions and helping me deal with hard times such as injuries. My mum has helped me with the nutrition side of things, ensuring I’m eating enough and the right types of foods. I can’t not mention my brother, Ruairi, who has been a great training partner for me throughout the years and not forgetting yourself, Lee, and all those 800m training sessions we have had!
Education and career
I’ve just finished my Leaving Certificate. In university, I’ve chosen to do a course called Sport Development with Coaching in Sheffield Hallam University, which is a three-year course. I’ve always wanted to become a primary school teacher and this course leaves this option available while also giving many other choices too. I then intend to do a postgraduate certificate in education in primary school teaching, specialising in physical education, which takes another year.
Striking a balance
Balancing training with my social life has always been a challenge. I think that every athlete is faced with the ‘sport or friend’ dilemma. I tend to prioritise certain events and the things I do go to, I’m always late (because of training) and I tend to leave early (so I can sleep)! I do think though that having that downtime to be with friends and just be a ‘normal’ teenager is good.
Getting injured is a nightmare, but something most athletes must deal with. I’ve had a couple, most recently fracturing my foot in 2018. Being in a boot and not being able to train was extremely frustrating but it’s just another side of the sport that I had to learn to cope with. My time off, however, gave me a chance to be with friends which was a nice change. But, I couldn’t wait to get back into my normal busy routine.
Being a heptathlete, my week is extremely busy. I have to fit seven events into five days as I have two rest days. My sessions tend to last quite a while. I generally do two to three events, which means I’m at the track for at least two hours. I don’t think I could ever go back to doing just one event. I love the fact that I have seven different areas to work on and if one’s not going well, I’ve six others to count on. I’m the type of person that loves to be busy. I don’t like sitting around doing nothing, so I guess the heptathlon is the perfect event for me! I’ve always said I’d love to try a 400m race; to me, it seems like a combination of speed and endurance, which I should have from my 200m and 800m training. So who knows? Maybe one day you’ll see me in the blocks for a 400m race.
Outside of athletics, I do have other interests. In secondary school I played basketball, I really enjoyed being a part of a team sport because it was so different to what I was used to in athletics. It gave me the chance to rely on other people while competing. I also quite like to act. In secondary school, I had a lead role in our musical and when I was younger, I used to take part in my town’s musicals also. My other interests would be hanging out with friends and listening to music.
My goals in athletics would be to qualify for the Olympics and be competitive for the medals. For the moment, however, I plan on continuing to grow as an athlete and trying to perfect each of my events so they can become world-class individually.