Athletes Commission: Kerry O’Flaherty has achieved things in her athletics career that most can only dream of.
Making a European final, World Championships and Olympic Games in the space of just over a year seemed a long shot for the Down woman when she first started running Cross Country and up the mountains for her local club Newcastle AC.
She quickly realised she had potential and gradually began to get into track racing before taking a step back from the sport when she went to university.
It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she transitioned from a metric miler to a steeplechaser, a brave move which ultimately paid dividends.
O’Flaherty was unfortunate not to make the Olympic Games in 2012 but three years later on a magical night in Letterkenny she ran the qualifying time for Rio 2016 alongside fellow Irish athletes Michelle Finn and Sara Treacy.
“I’m not so sure if everybody thought that the three of us could get that Olympic standard that night but it was set up really, really well by the club,” she explains.
“There were athletes from America and a pacemaker from Poland. Everything just clicked.
“It was amazing that the three of us did it together as well.”
O’Flaherty feels herself, Finn and Treacy bounced off each other during that time period, travelling to meets together, rooming together and ultimately pushing each other on.
“You look back on it and it was a really special time in our athletics career’s where the three of us were achieving everything together and living the dream.”
O’Flaherty reflects on her career high of making the Olympic Games with immense pride.
“There’s still sort of pinch me moments when I think back on it,” she says.
“At the moment I’m in schools working on a mental wellbeing in sport programme and I chat to the kids about my story and the ups and the downs.
“It wasn’t always plain sailing. Looking back on it, it was really, really hard graft.
“At the end of the day, you do have a team around you with your coaches and the physios you work with, so it is a team achievement in the end, but it is an individual sport,” she adds.
“You’re the one that is answerable to getting up in the morning, getting the work done, getting the recovery done and going through the ups and downs of injury.
“It really was the ultimate prize at the end, making that Olympic Games, and it’s something that I can always look back on and be proud of.”
Now in her early forties, O’Flaherty is still loving her running which she now balances with working full-time.
She is eager to give back to the sport so has opted to join the Athletics Ireland Athletes Commission, where she is looking after the concerns of endurance athletes particularly Cross Country and Road for the second year in a row.
“The Athlete’s Commission is there to be the voice for Irish international athletes, anybody who’s competed for Ireland in the last five years,” she says.
“We’re there to have strong channels of communication between athletes and Athletics Ireland and really to support Athletics Ireland in everything that they do.
“We are there to be the voice of athletes and have feedback forms at the minute for any athletes that have anything to share with us whether that be good or bad.
“I wanted to give something back to the sport because the sports given me so much in my life.
“I guess this is just that extra bit that I could probably give with my knowledge of going through an athletics career.”
O’Flaherty is keen to highlight that athletes can fill out the feedback forms anonymously if they wish. The Athletes Commission are currently working with Athletics Ireland on a number of issues and O’Flaherty is determined that they will make a positive impact.
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