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Life in the new normal: Cillian Melly

Sport

LEARNING TO FLY Cillian Melly is pictured competing for Ireland in the Men’s 200m Butterfly Heats at the European Short Course Swimming Championships last December in Glasgow. Pic: Sportsfile

FACTFILE

Name: Cillian Melly
Age: 23
From: Breaffy
Occupation: Student athlete at University of Limerick
Did you know? Cillian graduated last year with a Bachelors of Biomedical Engineering Degree. He is currently studying a MA in Business Management along with his training.

Cillian Melly
Swimming

I JUST got back into the pool last Monday in the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin, which is the only place in Ireland open at the minute and only to people on the national squad.
There's about 20 altogether split into two groups and there's very strict protocol. We have our own lanes, our own areas to leave our bags in the same place every day, we wipe down everything we use. Even walking in by reception there's a specific route that we have to follow without touching any doors and our temperature is taken by a security guard every day.
If it’s over 37.5 we’re told to go home and come back tomorrow.
I was training from 8am to 10am in the pool this morning and then had an hour in the gym. For our gym work, we’ve been split into four different groups with different time slots, split between the NAC and Sport Ireland Institute.
We're only getting back into it now so I've only swam about 15k this week, which compared to a usual week in the thick of the action could be 40-60k, and we're only training once a day.
I'm living in an athlete house in the back of the sports campus here in Dublin with four others, so I’m not too far from training and it’s one less thing to be worried about.
It's a great feeling to get back in the water.
However, I wasn't too worried throughout lockdown because I've had my fair share of serious injuries that have kept me out of the water for a substantial amount of time. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but I’m definitely somewhat used to having to come back from time out, or building up from zero.
There’s some lads here who haven’t spent ten weeks out of the water since they were 15, and now they’re 26.
Back in 2015, when I first moved to college and starting training in Limerick at the National Centre, I went to a surf lifesaving competition in Spain and I basically fell off my board, went straight into a sandbank and broke my neck! I ended up having to go for surgery, and that dragged on, on and on. I was in a neck brace for six months.
That has almost prepared me for Covid-19 somewhat, and I wasn't worried or anxious over the ten weeks about getting back into the pool or trying to get back to the level I was because I've kind of done it before, so I can base myself off that.

Lockdown
JUST before lockdown occurred, I was in the Dublin Airport, sitting with my passport in hand, ready to board a flight to a competition in Edinburgh. Then we all got a message in the group chat from our team manager, calling us back to meet somewhere in the airport.
He basically told us that Leo Varadkar had just made an announcement and the country had gone into lockdown.
The competition was a warm-up before Olympic qualifiers that were two weeks later. Then the whole ‘boom on the Zoom’ took place and training on our own started. We used to do a lot of core sessions on Zoom with the national squad, maybe three a week of around 40 minutes of core with our coaches watching.  
Thankfully, my brother over the last couple of years started to build up the home gym so I was one of the better off ones in that sense. He plays for the Breaffy senior team and has been trying to get bigger for that, which is something me and my coaches really wanted me to do. I’ve been trying over the last two years, but when you’re swimming over 50k in a week you’re pretty much burning all you eat.
There was a stage where I was eating 6000 calories, which is painful to do.
It got to the point where I was eating three bowls of porridge a day just to try and put on weight and get as much calories into my body and it just tasted horrible.
I started to lift probably four or five times a week, which is a good bit more than I usually would. And I started off doing a bit of running but I was kind of conscious that swimmers don't really run. We don't really do too well on the land, so I didn't want to risk injury. So I got a stationary bike from Elverys and got my cardio done on that.
I learned how to swim in Westport and was naturally good from a young age.
My mother actually lied on my application form so I could learn with my sister who was two years older, just to make it more convenient for her!
The coach, Barry Robinson, when he found out, said I was the youngest to ever complete the 12 levels and suggested I started on lengths. Which brought me to Castlebar. But I’ve always loved the water from a young age.
I competed at the European Short Court Swimming Championships last December, which was my first major competition and I came back from it hugely motivated having seen the calibre of talent and where I need to get to.
The Olympics is the goal of every swimmer.
It’s very hard to know how realistic it is, but I definitely think it is! I’m number two in Ireland at the minute for my main event – the 200m butterfly – so definitely the Olympics is the goal for me.

In conversation with Ger Flanagan

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