'Since I started skydiving there's very little I fear'

'Since I started skydiving there's very little I fear'
Paralympic athlete Niamh McCarthy during a training session at her home in Carrigaline, Cork, while adhering to the guidelines of social distancing set down by the HSE. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

CARRIGALINE’S Niamh McCarthy should have been headed to Japan this September.

But instead, she’ll have to wait an extra year, for the rescheduled Summer Games.

The Paralympic discus thrower has become one of the best in the world in her discipline, the F41 category, having medalled at European, World and Paralympic level, across her eight-year career.

McCarthy’s ultimate goal remains the Tokyo Games, which have been moved to late August/ early September of 2021.

Despite the pandemic throwing the 2020 sporting calendar into disarray, the 26-year-old is determined to take the positives from the situation.

Most of all, it gives her an opportunity to get to where she wants to be at, if she’s to match the level of form she displayed when winning a medal at the Summer Games in Rio, or when she smashed the European record two years’ later.

She’s not looking too far ahead, mind, but the 2019 World bronze medal winner certainly doesn’t lack the motivation, one year out.

“It’s a bit weird. It’s not just a short little deferral, it’s an entire year. But I’m personally kind of thankful just for the extra time to prepare.

“Early this year, I was a bit anxious about my potential, because I had a tough time last year. I’m grateful, trying to get back on track this year to be in better form for next year. It’s for the best I think.

“I’m at this seven or eight years maybe. There have been good years and bad years. I had an injury year in 2017, so that was really difficult.

“You just need time and I’ve a very good support team to help me through things. Last year was another tough year, mentally. There was a lot of change with my coaching and whatnot.

“I wasn’t seeing the performances I was hoping for. That has been my hardest year so far. I’m still trying to work on getting back to where I was with my mental strength. I’ve always been incredibly competitive. I don’t put any limits on myself. Motivation can be harder the longer you’re in the sport.

“You’ve been through the ups and downs and you know more about what can happen. Training solo during lockdown was very intense. But I used that as an opportunity just to stray fit and healthy.

“Having a concrete goal and trying to be the best as I possibly can be [is the plan now]. Hopefully, Tokyo can roll around next year and I can see what result that gives me,” McCarthy said.

The 2018 European champion, when she set a record throw of 31.76m in Berlin, has a very structured training routine.

However, maintaining that level of preparation was put to the test, as it was for virtually every sportsperson, during lockdown.

Still, having kept on top of her physical fitness, she’s now getting back on track.

“I do also work part-time, with Dell, three days a week, Monday to Wednesday, so that plays into my training.

“I’ll do a heavy gym session of an hour early in the week. I would do another gym session after work on Wednesday. Sometimes, in the winter, there’s even a third gym session. I have two or three throwing sessions as well.

“Those are the core sessions. I’ve also started doing pilates and I would have physio once a week as well,’” she said.

McCarthy has shone wherever she has represented Ireland, right across the globe. She’s bagged medals at Berlin, Doha, Dubai, Grosetto (Italy), London and Rio de Janeiro.

Asked about the highlight so far, she doesn’t cast any doubt; throwing her way to silver at the 2016 Summer Games.

“I think the highlight kind of has to be Rio, my first Paralympics. I really didn’t know what I was in for. It was my third year of international competition and I went in to it with very little expectation, as I was a newcomer.

“Just the atmosphere of the village and everything. It’s not something you prepare for. It is just immense.

“It was a very good games for me. The competition was tough. Thankfully, I dug deep and was able to pull out a throw that put me in second place and kept me there.

“With the pressure, with thousands and thousands of people watching it, and to be able to pull it out of the bag, it was a massive achievement for me,” she said.

As you can tell, the Corkonian loves a challenge. When not competing at major championships around the world, McCarthy enjoys an adventure from the sky.

Skydiving is something she discovered during her student days, at UCC.

”I always wanted to do a jump. My dear father paid for a skydive for my 18th birthday! I ended up doing a solo jump and that was me hooked.

“I’ve done over 100 solo jumps at this point now. I don’t jump as much as I used to, only after the end of a season.

“It is something that I go back to sometimes. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is character building. Going to Rio was intense, but I thought; 'you’ve done skydives at this stage and you’ll get through this as well'.

“There are certain things that you hate doing, anything that might scare you a bit. After I started skydiving, very little gave me any type of fear,” she said.

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