FOR those of you who have listed ‘getting fit’ as part of your New Year’s resolutions, Hugh Gallagher, a former Donegal Person of the Year, is a good role model.
The winner of more than one hundred and fifty All Ireland track and field athletic gold medals, Hugh (90) is currently training for the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lyon, France, next August. Before that, there’s the All Ireland Masters indoors in Athlone (March) and outdoor championships in Tullamore (July) where he hopes to take part in the 60 metre sprint, shot putt and long jump.
Speaking to the Donegal News from his home in Creevy, Carrigart this week, Hugh said that there was always time to keep fit – even if you’re in your nineties!
“I would do press-ups and lift a few weights most days while I’ve also an exercise bike in the house which I would use regularly,” he said.
The father of twelve – his eldest son Michael died when he was seventeen – Hugh’s interest in athletics was re-ignited when his children started to compete.
“I did a lot of running and cycling when I was a young man. However when I went to work in England and Scotland the training had to take a back seat as I worked long hours,” Hugh said.
A work accident in London almost claimed his life.
“I was hit across the back by an iron girder. It almost killed me. I was taken to St George’s Hospital in London where I was told that I would never walk again. They said my back was broke and they put me in plaster. I felt mighty low for a long, long time.
“Thankfully, however, my willpower took over and with the grace of God I started to get strong once more.”
Competing for Milford AC, Hugh won eight All Ireland gold medals in 2014 – three indoor titles in Athlone and five at the All Ireland outdoor championships in Tullamore.
Athletics Ireland officials made a presentation to Hugh in Tullamore as the first Irish person to win track and field medals at over 90 years of age.
Hugh has now won 163 All Ireland gold medals in athletics off Ireland and Irish weight throwing championships.
He has also won 26 gold medals, 23 European gold medals, 25 British gold medals, 26 Scottish and Welsh gold, Donegal and Ulster medals.
His medal haul started back in 1987 when he won the Donegal 56lb hammer title. That same year Hugh entered his first Masters competition, winning three silver medals.
“I learned a lot that first year and came back stronger twelve months later to win a few gold medals,” he said.
When asked about the key behind his success, Hugh’s answer is short, simple and to the point.
“I don’t drink or smoke – Never did. Nobody should if they want to live a fit, healthy, long life.”
Recalling his training regime from years ago, Hugh said he used to train under the cover of darkness.
“I’d be out at six in the morning in case anyone seen me. In those days you would be considered mad to go out running,” he laughed.
Sport has given Hugh the opportunity to visit many countries across the globe. He has competed for Ireland in places as far apart as Australia, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain and the Scandinavian countries.
“I held the Irish record for the 60 metre sprint for ten years. I ran a time of 10:35 seconds. It’s not that quick but then again I’m not that young any more,” he laughed.
Hugh is looking ahead to the 2015 season when he is eligible for the over 90 category.
“Competition is very keen in the Over 95 section at the moment so there’s plenty to look forward to,” he concluded.