Many kids might dream of sporting glory but there are few who can say their dreams of competing in Olympics have come true. But that is what Laura Reynolds will do next Saturday when she stands on the line of the Women’s 20Km walk in London.
In a wide ranging interview with the Leitrim Observer, Laura revealed “When London were bidding for it and I was in secondary school, I thought I’d love to make that, it would be kind of a home Olympics for us.
“Obviously it was a far off dream at that stage but I had made World Youths back in transition year and I always had that in the back of my mind.”
If her own underestated reaction to achieving the Olympic qualifying time last June was one of quiet delight, the reaction from the public, both at home and in Dublin where she has completed her studies in DCU, has been incredible.
“It was announced from the altar in Eslin and Mohill and I’m like, Oh, it was announced at mass, it is serious. I didn’t realise how delighted everyone was for me, just the Olympics, everyone wants to have a connection with the Olympics.
“So many messages of support, just texts, people ringing, on Facebook, people calling to the house, it has been so good. I didn’t even realise how big of a deal it was until I was talking with them at home and they were telling me everyone is ringing, calling the house, all these messages.
“It has been great and I suppose it will sink in a bit more now but even in Dublin, people have reacted. Even when I was in the park there, a group of students when I was out training shouting at me, good shouting about London and I was like what is going on here, they’re not pulling the piss.
“I suppose every four years, people do take a special interest because it is the Olympics. It is different, it is a bit special, all the sports together.”
If the Olympics are special, then equally so is the fact that two Leitrim walkers will be in action next Saturday, a fact that Laura is immensely proud of - “We do very well, we’ve had two or three Olympians in the past like Frances Cryan and Eddie Leddy and Colin.
“A lot of people have been on to me saying two Leitrim Olympians at the same time, even any other county apart from maybe Dublin or Cork, it is great. Leitrim may be small but look at the amount of medals we win all through the years at Juvenile level, we have good coaches in Leitrim, bringing the athletes and developing them on but the athletes are looked after.”
Laura’s massive breakthrough this year came as she took nearly three minutes off her personal best this year, a feat which attributes both to the incentive of the Olympics and getting stronger in the gym.
“Think it is a bit of both, I’m getting a lot stronger, I’m working a lot more in the gym, my training is a lot more consistent. I’m managing my injuries a lot better now. In the gym, I’m lifting a lot more weights, squatting and dead-lifting, even this time last year I never thought I’d be able to do anything like that so I’m a lot stronger in the gym.”
Paying tribute to the input of the Institute of Sport for their help this year, a typical weeks sees Laura train twice a day at least six days a week, not including gym sessions and prehab stretching sessions. Key sessions include track sessions of 10 times 1Km with 500m easy and sessions of 20-25Km.
Based in Dublin, it is a solitary existance with coach Colin Griffin in Limerick but it is a routine she is used to - “It is solitary but I’m used to it so it doesn’t bother me.
“Most other athletes train in groups but I would the odd time have another walker from DCU, James Traynor from Shercock or if I’m away training, I’d have Olive Loughnane to train with for some of the easy stuff but mostly it would be on my own.”
Walking is not the most glamorous sport but Laura was always drawn to the event - “I would always have done a bit of running and I wasn’t too bad at the running, my best place was the All-Ireland Schools Intermediate 3K, I came fourth after doing the walk but I was always better at the walking, I just liked it more.
“I started off in Community Games and that was the first big thing. I had started off in Mohill Athletic Club when I was 10 when Lucia Tyrell was running the club. I did Community Games and later on at that stage, I got involved with the Griffins in Ballinamore, Colin has been coaching me ten years at this stage. I was playing other sports up until I was 15 but athletics was always my favourite.”
With Colin racing early on Saturday morning and Laura not on until 5 pm, it will be a difficult day for the two Leitrim walkers to manage - “Colin is on at 9 am, I might pop out for 20 minutes but we’ll see. It will be a busy day, I’m on at 5.00 and I’ll have to concentrate on my own thing. We’re used to it at this stage, we usually race at the same time so it is nothing new.”
As for her own ambitions and the hype of the Olympics, Laura said - “You do have to step back a bit and remember it is just a race like any other race and not get caught up in the hype too much. It is a bit of a circus alright, there is a lot of attention on it, media coverage.
“I’m not sure yet, I am only 23 so I hope that this is the first of a couple of Olympics but at the same time, I’m not just there to make up numbers. If all goes well, I know I can take another minute off and top 20 maybe but it just depends on the day as well.
“Everyone really does step up their game in Olympic year,. It is hard to peak for it because it is only an hour and a half every four years but I’ll see how my preparation goes but I want a good performance in London.
“I definitely think I can make it to a few Olympics. I’m delighted I’ve made it at this stage so early so I can experience an Olympic Games.”
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