A young athlete from Northern Ireland, who recently received a Mary Peters Trust bursary, is happy to set her alarm for 4.40am every morning if it means representing her country at the Olympic Games.
Triathlete Erin McConnell from Newtownards is one of three young people from Northern Ireland who are aiming to secure European, Commonwealth and Olympic achievements with support from a new Mary Peters Trust and Power NI partnership.
Ranked two on the island of Ireland, Erin is currently the BMW Super Series female Irish champion, is Triathlon Ireland’s Junior Athlete of the Year and a Junior Aquathon National champion.
Erin, 18, said: “I train about 20 plus hours a week which includes my swimming, cycling and running. That also includes strength and conditioning classes and yoga.
“You need to be very disciplined. It becomes a way of life. It’s not a sacrifice.
“I don’t know any different. Sport has always been part of my life.
“To me it’s not giving up anything, it’s about striking a balance.
“A lot of the time my friends are going out partying and I can’t partake in that because I need to be in bed early to be up at 20 to five and be sharp for training the next morning.
“It’s all about trusting the process and knowing that triathlon for me is a marathon and not a sprint. I need to be at this for years to come to reach my goals.
“The end goal is to get on to the international triathlon circuit, definitely the Commonwealth Games in 2022 in Birmingham. The ultimate goal would be the Olympics, hopefully Paris 2024. It would be amazing to reach that goal.”
The former Strathearn pupil, now attending SERC in Bangor studying sport and exercise science, hopes to go to Jordanstown next year.
Asked if she got to spend much time with friends and family, Erin said: “I do get a day off here and there and I do make sure I get completely out of sport. Once or twice a year I get a couple of days to go away with my family. I try to see my friends as much as I can. Most of them are very understanding.
“I don’t get much downtime but when I do I go out with my friends for dinner or the cinema. I do go out on special occasions. I do have a life outside sport. That’s also important because I’m going to be at this for years to come.”
Other young athletes to receive a £2,000 bursary were west Belfast gymnast Ryan Devine and Conn Nagle, a wheelchair basketball player from north Belfast.
In addition to helping the upcoming sporting heroes get on track to achieve their sporting ambitions, Power NI has appointed all three as ‘Power NI community sporting ambassadors’ with the aim of encouraging other young athletes to push forward and achieve their own sporting goals.
Conn, 18, is using his Power NI funding to help him reach the 2020 U-22 European Wheelchair Basketball Championships which is a 2021 World Championship qualifier.
Post A-levels, Conn hopes to study at Sheffield University where the GB wheelchair basketball squad is based.
Selected for the GB U-23 squad at the age of only 17, Conn achieved third place in the UK Schools Games and fourth in this year’s IWBF U-22 European Championship.
Seventeen-year-old gymnast Ryan Devine specialises in the discipline of trampoline and double mat trampoline.
The year 11 De La Salle College student has a wide range of sporting achievements under his belt including the top honours in Northern Ireland senior men’s trampoline, senior men’s DMT (double mini trampoline) senior men’s Synchronised Trampoline and Senior Trampoline Team champion.
A Junior European Double Mini Trampoline and Senior British DMT champion, Ryan was also part of the GB Senior DMT World Championship team.
The new Power NI-backed community athletes’ initiative is part of a portfolio support package for the Mary Peters Trust which includes financial support for ongoing trust fundraising events such as the Sport Inspires lunch and Lady Mary’s 80th birthday gala dinner which was held at Titanic Belfast recently.
Since its inception after Mary’s Olympic gold medal win at the 1972 Munich games, the Mary Peters Trust has impacted hugely on the sporting lives of thousands of young sports men and women both able-bodied and disabled.
For more information on the Mary Peters Trust visit www.marypeterstrust.org