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A woman of many talents


Westport triathlete Hilary Hughes has got a fascinating story to tell

Michael Gallagher

WHAT does one do on a sunny Saturday morning?
Some head for the beach, others to the bog, and some more pull the duvet over the head and settle in for a lazy day. Hilary Hughes doesn’t fit into any of these categories.
The Westport woman is a professional triathlete; a doctor and a former international cyclist with many more strings to her bow and her Saturdays usually consist of a six-hour cycle, a 30-minute run and rest and recovery.
In an exclusive two-part interview with The Mayo News, Hilary takes readers through her progression from equestrian fanatic to hobby runner and on to the international stage. Interspersed in her journey is employment in Google, the frontline fight against Covid and a family who support her adventures while also breaking their own world records.
Hilary Hughes is cutting her own path through life while breaking down barriers for future generations of triathletes.
This week, in her own words, we hear about her first steps in an intriguing athletic adventure.

The start line
“I’m a Westport girl from a sports-mad family who is fortunate to be a professional triathlete. My first love was horse-riding up at Paddy Joe Foy’s and out in Knappaghbeg with Val Moran. That was my life up to the age of 16.
When I moved to school in Kings Hospital in Dublin I tried to take my pony with me, but it didn’t work out because I couldn’t give it enough time.”

Off and running
“I wasn’t an athlete at all but that changed a little when I was in Kings Hospital.
Sarah Treacy, who later ran in the steeplechase at the Olympics, was in the school with my sister, Pamela, and their athletic exploits took the place by storm.
Sarah had an older sister Fola in fifth year who was putting together a cross-country team for the school and made me join because my sister could run, so she thought I could too.
Our first race was over 3k and I needed to see if I could run that distance, so the day before the race I headed out on my own and ran the distance no bother. However, the next morning I was stiff as a board, but that didn’t put me off. John Treacy’s daughter was also in the school and we had a lovely little team and I really liked it.”

Tippin’ along
“I went to UCD after school and then worked in Google for a couple of years. I was always tippin along going for a run in the evening or to Yoga or weights classes. I entered the odd 10k here and there and just enjoyed life. Working with Google was amazing and I was comfortable there, but I decided to go back to college and do Graduate Medicine in UCD.
In 2013 I spent a three-month period sitting at the kitchen table prepping for entrance exams for medicine and promised myself I’d do something different when I was finished. I heard about this new event called ‘Cycle Against Suicide’ and it was an ideal way to blow off the dust and forget the months of study.
I had been doing spinning classes but never sat on a road bike before, but loved the whole experience and completed the whole thing – 14-days, 100km a day, hopping into schools talking to kids about mental health. I got an incredible buzz off it and also people began to notice that I was strong on the bike.
Afterwards, someone suggested a triathlon and I went and did a few for fun. As the months passed I got a little bit more serious about it and managed to qualify to represent Ireland at the 2016 Age-Group Europeans.
That set in train a number of other adventures which eventually led to me being a professional triathlete.
Of course, me being me, the route from those Europeans to today wasn’t a direct one, but it was challenging, fun and adventurous and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

See more in this week’s and next week’s Mayo News


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