By Harry Walsh
A YOUNG Donegal athlete will rub shoulders with an Olympic medallist when the European triathlon calendar arrives in Turkey and the iconic and historic Istanbul this weekend.
Siobhan Gallagher (25) from Gartan is a member of the 24/7 Triathlon Club in Letterkenny. She is one of three female triathletes who flew out yesterday as part of the Triathlon Ireland Development Team to race in the ETU Sprint Triathlon European Cup.
When Siobhan started triathlon a few years ago, little did she think that she would go onto the become one of the best athletes in the country and get the opportunity to race against top female pro Lisa Norden who won silver in the triathlon at the London Olympics.
Indeed, Siobhan had to get off her bike and walk it up the hill and didn’t complete the run during her first ever triathlon in Gartan.
“It didn’t go quite as planned but it’s an addictive sport and I kept at it,” she smiled.
A former swimmer with the Swilly Seals club in Letterkenny, Siobhan took a five-year ‘break’ from sport before a sports course in the North West Regional College in Limavady, rekindled an interest in keeping fit.
“Sport took a back seat for a number of years until I joined the local 24/7 Triathlon Club in Letterkenny to keep fit. I was a decent swimmer and quite strong on the bike but the running was a problem,” she laughed.
Fast forward five years and she’s now taking part in the ETU – where all the professional triathletes cut their teeth – having been picked for Ireland.
“I specialise in sprint races – 750 metre swim, 20k bike and 5k run – and it involves a lot of training. My first triathlon was in Gartan and I had to push the bike up the hill and didn’t complete the run because I wasn’t fit enough so I suppose I’ve improved a wee bit since then,” she said.
Consistent performances during last season’s National series soon brought Siobhan’s name to the attention of the Irish selectors.
“I finished the year inside the top five and, from that, Triathlon Ireland selected me as part of their team for further development,” she said.
Siobhan has won both triathlons she has taken part in this year to date, Lough Cutra in Galway and, more recently, The Firmus City of Derry triathlon.
“We’re part of a long term development programme so we’re not expecting any great results this weekend,” she said.
Under the expert eye of trainer Eunan Quinn from Ballybofey, Siobhan will be joined by girls from Sligo and Belfast in Istanbul this weekend.
“I would do some of the bike sessions with the Four Masters club but a lot of the running and swimming I’m doing myself. I work with my dad and it’s not that easy finding the necessary time to train,” she said.
Siobhan drives the Illistrin school bus for her father Brian and she works her training around the school runs.
“I try to get in two sessions a day, depending on work, incorporating the three disciplines of the sport. It can be quite addictive,” she said.
The youngest daughter of Brian and Margaret Gallagher, Siobhan has a sister Tracey and brother Brian.
“My parents wouldn’t be that sporty but dad is going to run the Glenswilly 5k tonight (Tuesday),” she said.
Siobhan flew out to Turkey this morning ahead of Saturday’s race while Team Ireland is also entered into another race in France in July,” she said.
“To line up alongside an Olympic silver medallist (Lisa Norden) is just unreal. I can’t wait to get out there now,” she added.
Nick Fowell, Secretary, 24/7 Triathlon Club, said the club members were all very proud of Siobhan’s achievements.
“When she started out with the club three or four years ago she was always at the back of the class, alongside me, in the running. She was always a strong swimmer and could ride a bike but now she’s developed into one of the best athletes in the country. It’s an amazing story and we’re all so proud of her.”