How do I start describing the greatest experience of my life? The closest thing I can put to it would be this: a dream. Team Ireland arrived into Sochi on the 2nd of February, and it was overwhelming upon arrival. All of the volunteers were so helpful, and it was nice to be treated as a VIP for once. The airport was quite hectic with all of the arrivals, but we got all of our gear sorted and headed up by bus to the mountain village. Each athlete was welcomed with an incredible gift basket, with gifts from each of the Olympic sponsors, most memorably the phone from Samsung. The rooms themselves were basic but very nice, and our Chef de Mission Stephen Martin made them feel like home with Irish memorabilia.
After about a day of settling in, we got right into the training. Florence and I were on the hill everyday with Alain, our coach from Italy, training giant slalom and slalom. It was nice to see the slopes around Sochi; the terrain was amazing, rivaling that of the European Alps. The afternoons would be filled with gym training sessions, ski prep, and just wandering the village, meeting new athletes and volunteers every day. A few days walking around we all learned that the best way to make friends is to ask them for a pin trade; it was an easy way to break the ice. For me, it was a completely new experience from the point of meeting new athletes from across every discipline, not just alpine skiing like I would throughout the regular season. I made good friends with a lot of the freestylers from New Zealand and Britain, as Seamus would know a lot of them from before. The village was a nice, open atmosphere, a home away from home.
Coming into the Olympics, the biggest thing I looked forward to was the opening ceremony. When I found out that I would be flying the tri-colour in front of the world, I was in a bit of shock. I couldn’t believe I would be waving my nation’s flag in front of the entire world. The whole event went by so fast that I could hardly remember it afterwards.
The next day would prove to be the toughest day of my Olympic experience. As you knew beforehand, I injured my shoulder the day after the Opening Ceremony. I was lucky; it ended up being a non-displaced fracture of the top of the humerus. However, it would have been a lot handier not having a cracked shoulder before I competed in the Games.
I was feeling good on my GS skis the days before the race, the shoulder was just slightly painful to raise, so I had to really focus on staying on my outside ski on my right-footed turns. Race day came, and I felt like I was ready to attack the Giant Slalom course. Whether it was in the back of my mind or not, I think the shoulder played more on my confidence than anything else. I was skiing ok down the top section, although I was quite slow on the first split compared to the skiers around me. I came over the first steep pitch and nailed the first turn, the most important one on the course. I came onto the second gate and got a bit late, then got bumped around on the third, which lead to me getting twisted and eventually crashing into the barriers on the side. I was extremely disappointed with myself for not finishing the race. However, after first thinking I was never going to compete after my shoulder injury, I was proud of myself for staying level and making it to the starting gate. Whatever puts you down, you have to get back up.
After that day, I had to move on and focus on the slalom event, which would prove to be more difficult with my shoulder, as I would have to raise it to hit every gate on the way down. I worked with the Irish physio over the next couple of days and got my range of motion back to almost 100%. The day before the race I tried some gates, and it felt quite good. The only thing that was bothering me was the vibration of hitting the gates, as it travelled up my bones into the shoulder, causing me to go back seat after my left-footed turns. The day of the race I tried them again and was feeling much better.
The conditions were quite soft sliding down inspection, and they had all of the gates cornered off at the apex so we wouldn’t create a rut. That didn’t do much though, and by the time I went down at bib 107 it resembled a mogul course, not a slalom one. I did however make it down first run. I wasn’t too happy with my skiing that run, but that’s ski racing. If you were watching the event on television, you remember seeing the most ridiculous course set ever. So many top World Cup athletes blew out, mostly on that vertical-to-vertical turn on the top section. I pushed out of the gate and gave it my all, almost going out on that exact gate, but I pushed back in and made it down. For that run, I was pleased, and happy overall that I finished an Olympic event. Finishing 40th out of 117 racers was a great result for me, and for Ireland. My advice to anyone who comes across hardship in their sport is to keep pushing. You can never have success without pain and sacrifice.
The next day was kind of hard. I knew that I had a great experience at the Olympics, the best experience of my life so far, but now it was ending. I couldn’t believe it went by that fast. It was a bit hectic getting home, as I lost some of my bags in on the Sochi to Zurich flight, but once I arrived back into Dublin it felt so good to be back. Team Ireland was greeted by members of OCI and SAI in Dublin airport, and I was greeted my members of my family from Kerry. It was a great welcome home.