WHEN her name was announced as this year’s Miss Cork City, Rachel O’Leary could hardly believe her ears.
There was all the usual surprise and emotion at winning such a prestigious title, but for Rachel there was even more involved.
Just a few short years ago, the young woman suffered from anxiety that made it hard to go to the shop, or walk across the college campus on her own – never mind confidently taking her place centre stage before an audience.
“It’s still surreal, to be honest,” said the 23-year-old from Blarney.
“When I look at myself now, and compare how I was then… there’s just no comparison, and I’m so proud at how far I’ve come,” she said.
“Taking part in the competition, never mind winning, has completely changed my life.”
Rachel graduated from UCC last year with a first class honours degree in Commerce, majoring in Marketing and Entrepreneurship.
But early in her third-level journey she began to experience debilitating social anxiety.
“I’m not really sure how it started but it was probably to do with the transition from secondary to third level, going from a year of around 100 students in total, to being around thousands of people,” she said. “It was pretty daunting.”
It manifested by her feeling hyper-aware of where she was, and how she was feeling and being reluctant to go anywhere alone.
“I relied heavily on my great group of friends. I’ve a small, close circle of friends and their support was incredible as well as my older sister. I also availed of therapy. It was a big step initially, but it was one of the best I’ve ever made.”
Rachel continues to go to therapy when she needs it.
“I could go twice in a month, or not for two months. I’d recommend it to anyone – it’s great have someone and someplace where you can rationalise your thoughts. It’s really helped me grow and progress as a person.”
She feels there may still be a little stigma attached to attending therapy, more so among an older generation: “But the most important thing is to take care of yourself and nourish yourself. I’m very open about it, and to me it’s just a stepping stone.”
Right now the ambitious young woman works for
Motor Group, primarily as a sales retention executive and she’s relishing the role.
Prior to this she worked as a bridal consultant for Vows in Blarney. She’s a real people person, and that was the main reason for her entering the Miss Cork competition.
“I love meeting new people and networking – I always think it’s not what you know, but who you know.”
Coincidentally, herself and Miss Cork Ríona O’Mahony hit it off from the get-go, even joking how funny it would be if they both won!
‘We have literally been joined at the hip since we won – in fact I wore her debs dress to the final!”
Rachel is the older of the two, but says she’s not sure if that means she’s the wiser!
“We both complement each other. Ríona is very grounding and we push each other in directions we wouldn’t normally,” she said.
“It’s so lovely that we’re both going forward to the Miss Ireland competition together with Miss Cork People’s Choice Molly Dennehy O’ Mahony.”
Rachel has recently been announced as an ambassador for the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and she is supporting their upcoming tea day, which is their biggest fundraiser of the year on May 4th.
It’s a charity very close to her heart as both her maternal grandparents suffer from dementia and are being cared for in a nursing home.
“I really connect with the ASI as the services they offer are so brilliant for people who were in our situation a few months ago. It is sad to see my grandparents, but I always try to see the positives and at least we have time with them, and they’re being looked after in the right place,” she said.
When she’s not working or building her social media platforms, she enjoys the gym and reading.
“Oh and yoga! It’s phenomenal for the soul!”
She said she wouldn’t be where she is without her parents Linda and Neil.
“Their support has been incredible and my mum is so excited about Miss Ireland. It’s lovely to see!”
Her ultimate ambition?
“Just to be a success at whatever I’m doing, and to be known for all the right reasons. I think I’d like to work in the area of digital marketing, and working for myself which would be the dream.”
But for now it’s about enjoying her year as Miss Cork City.
“It’s very exciting and I’d like to think I might be a good role model for other girls out there, particularly those who are a little shy. I think we should all remember not to box ourselves off, and limit ourselves.
“I’d rather try and fail, than look back and regret not trying at all. It’s all about taking every opportunity – life is too short not to.”