ON HOME GROUND Padraig O’Hora is pictured outside James Stephens Park in Ballina last weekend. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Padraig O’Hora has been busy in recent months
DURING RTÉ’s ‘Special Forces, Ultimate Hell Week’ TV show recently he was known simply as ‘Number 23’.
Around the Stephenites they affectionately call him ‘Swanee’.
To his colleagues and the service users he works with in Western Care, he’s just ‘Padraig’. And the Mayo supporters? Well, they’re still getting to know ‘the lad with the pony-tail’ — aka Padraig O’Hora.
The last few weeks have seen the 27 year-old (who was born in London) from Ballina become a familiar face on our TV screens courtesy of the aforementioned ‘Hell Week’ programme as he underwent a gruelling eight-day series of challenges based on the selection course for the Irish Army’s ‘Ranger Wing’. He and the 27 other candidates were tested to the limit; physically, psychologically and emotionally.
But at the end of it all, in a show broadcast to the nation last Monday night, O’Hora was one of three competitors still standing. There were times when the pressure and the challenges bent him out of shape, but he never broke.
Last week he spoke to The Mayo News about the experience, how he used deep meditation to his advantage, and gave us an insight into what makes him tick.
MF: How did you end up on the show?
POH: I watched it last year and I thought, ‘That’s not bad’. I have no interest in TV or anything like that, I just liked the course when I saw it. My brother [Benjamin] is in the military so I’d have seen him doing bits and pieces over the years, and I just wondered if I’d be able for it.
So I went on to the RTÉ website, saw there was one day left to apply for this year’s show, and said I’d go for it.
MF: When did the show actually start?
POH: We went up and met on November 1. We were on the bus and thought we were on the way to an induction or to be shown the ropes. Instead, we were just told, ‘Get off the f***in bus!’ That was some wake-up call. I actually thought it was a joke.
The next thing we were fired into a river in our good clothes and were being dragged up and down hills and everything. I was freezing cold at the end of it, standing there in my jocks thinking, ‘This is no joke’.
MF: How did you prepare for ‘Hell Week’?
POH: We were training for the championship with the Stephenites when I should have been training for it. I was immersed in football, all I was thinking about was winning a county championship.
So a lot of the work that I would have done was mentally.
In my opinion, everything is in the head. So I got myself in order that way.
I do a lot of deep thinking and meditation every day. A lot of people thought that I used to sleep sitting up on the show but I do 20 minutes of that deep thinking and meditation every night.
It came in fierce handy on ‘Hell Week’. You’re out of control most of the time for that week so it was great to get control back for 20 minutes every night.
I think we had something like 13 hours sleep in seven nights, just 25 minutes the first night! They were just giving you enough to keep ticking over.
We were doing two tasks a day and you never stopped. Your body and your mind were always going.
I know my body and my mind at this stage, I know how they work and how I have to prepare them.
MF: Where did your interest in meditation come from?
POH: It came from my work initially, from spending time in the sensory rooms and learning about mindfulness. I really got into it from there.
I’ve lived it for the last few years and I find that it’s a great way of being able to get a little bit of control back.
I really enjoy what I do, and I think I learn a lot from people with disabilities rather than the other way around. I try and see how they see the world.
MF: What challenges were you comfortable with?
POH: The sparring was fairly sound. I did karate when I was younger and I have a background in boxing and jiu jitsu as well so that was grand. I felt strong doing the hikes as well, and I don’t really have a fear of water. I did a lifeguarding course years ago so that stood to me.
The height we had to jump off though was just high enough for you to realise that it was a big jump!
MF: What did you draw on for motivation?
POH: I didn’t think it was going to be where I drew my energy from, prior to going in. . .
I left the football for a few years and got involved in Mixed Martial Arts before going back to the football last year. . . And I noticed the different energy from being part of a group of 30 or 40 people compared to one person’s energy in a sport.
So I started off by visualising my close family and my friends; then I went to the wider community, my team-mates and people in the Stephenites; and then I thought of another group of people in the wider circle and how they were all inter-connected, and I took my energy from that. That’s what worked for me.
If I was only doing it for myself, I would have buckled.
MF: Why did you drift away from football?
POH: I was big into karate when I was younger and I would have tried a lot of different sports. I just wanted to sample some other sports again and I was just sick of doing the same thing, over and over with the football, and wasn’t getting any enjoyment out of it. I was gone for nearly two years.
But then I went back watching the Stephenites again, and you can’t watch football without being drawn back to it, I think. Coming back was the best thing I ever did.
MF: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of doing ‘Hell Week’?
POH: I’d advise anyone who’s thinking about it to do it. And not Hell Week, but whatever your goal is just go for it.
I was a bit nervous and a bit scared about the thought of doing a TV show, but I think it’s natural to feel like that about something that challenges you. But just go for it.
Name: Padraig O’Hora
Occupation: Social Care Assistant with Western Care
Did you know? Padraig and his partner Róisín have two children, Caiden (7) and Mila-Rae (2).