Ballinamore’s Olympian welcomed at local schools

After the intense preparations that went in to securing his spot on the starting line for the 50km race walk at the London Olympics in August, Colin Griffin was last week back home in Ballinamore where he received a very warm welcome in both the Boy’s and Girl’s National Schools.

After the intense preparations that went in to securing his spot on the starting line for the 50km race walk at the London Olympics in August, Colin Griffin was last week back home in Ballinamore where he received a very warm welcome in both the Boy’s and Girl’s National Schools.

By Philip Rooney

Having been up and about early in the morning for what is by his standards a leisurely 15km walk, Colin’s first stop was at Scoil Naomh Padraig where he was greeted by school principal Noel McKeon who informed the students, “There are not too many schools in Ireland that could boast a past pupil going to the Olympics.”

Before embarking on as gruelling a question and answer session as you could imagine, Colin addressed the students saying, “It’s good to be back after 18 years, my dreams started here,” adding, “Enjoy your sport and don’t be afraid to dream big.”

Questions about his training regime, his diet, his hopes for the Olympics and whether or not he not gets bored during races followed with Colin giving every question his full attention and giving the students an insight into the dedication that is required to become an Olympian.

One point of interest for the students in both schools was Colin’s tattoo of the Olympic rings which he said was, “Something I always said I’d do when I became an Olympian.”

Another topic raised in both schools revolved around Colin’s footwear. Wearing what looked like a pair of quality running shoes, Colin explained his race shoes would be a lighter version of those but such is the wear and tear suffered by the shoes as a result of his training regime, he has to discard his runners after just two or three weeks, joking, “I have a shed full of old runners.”

When asked by one of the students from Scoil Naomh Padraig what his training regime involves, Colin gave a detailed description of how training dictates his day. From a walk early in the morning to eating properly throughout the day to a further session in the evening on top of visiting the gym three times in the week, it doesn’t take long to realise that to become an athlete of this calibre your training and well being must your number one priority. It quickly becomes apparent that matters such as socialising fall well down the list of priorities for any athlete who wants to compete at the top of their sport.

Colin will be competing at his second Olympics, having represented Ireland at the 2008 Games in Beijing, just a year after competing at 50km for the first time. Unfortunately that day didn’t go according to plan as he received his third red card before the 20km mark. When asked how he felt about being disqualified, Colin gave a frank assessment saying, “I was disappointed but you have to be positive and learn from your mistakes.”

After speaking about the experience of being an athlete at the Olympic Games, Colin was asked if he managed to get Usain Bolt’s autograph in Beijing, to which he replied, “No, but I bumped into him a few times walking around the athletes village.”

With no sign of the line of questioning coming to an end, Mr McKeon stepped in to bring proceedings in the Boys School to an end when he spoke on behalf of the students and staff saying, “We sincerely wish you the best of luck at the Olympics and hope you do very well.”

After posing for pictures and signing autographs Colin embarked on the short walk to St Bridget’s NS where school principal Eilis O’Dell welcomed Colin.

Colin spoke about how he ended up as a race walker recalling he used to participate in all events when he was younger and played football until he was 15. Coming from a sporting family it is hardly surprising that Colin began his interest in athletics at a young age but it did raise a few eyebrows when Colin announced that he was just four years old when he competed in his first race. Naturally, the next question was whether or not he claimed victory in his maiden race but Colin was forced to admit his first foray into racing wasn’t a complete success as he joked, “No, I fell!”

Before departing Colin had some words of wisdom for the students saying, “Don’t be afraid to have big dreams and to work hard for what you want to achieve.”

After being grilled by the students of Ballinamore, Colin sat down to speak to the Leitrim Observer where he gave further insights into the life of a full time athlete, preparing for the Olympic Games and that interview will be published ahead of his race in London on Saturday, August 11.