AT the turn of the 21st century, Karol Duggan was one of the most talented and decorated underage athletes in the country.
The young Milford teenager was already an International athlete having been selected to wear the Irish singlet at an U16 Schools International meet in Durham.
Under the tutelage of his father Hugo, himself a former Irish International long-jumper and sprinter, Karol’s future in athletics looked bright. Wearing the colours of Milford AC and Cranford AC, track and cross country seasons respectively, he was getting ready to showcase his prodigious athletic talent on the senior stage.
Simultaneously, Karol was preparing to start a Quality Management course at Sligo Institute on Technology.
“I had enjoyed success at underage level but it had got to the stage where it wasn’t for me. I was training seven days a week and when I went to college it was the excuse I had been looking for and I got out,” he recalled this week.
There followed some time playing Donegal League football, GAA with Milford and even a little bit of rugby with Letterkenny.
Fast forward seventeen years and the summer of 2017 when Karol’s friend Eoghan McGinley encouraged him to put on the runners once more.
Having been away from the sport for so long, nearly every coach said he would never be the same again. Surprise, surprise. They were wrong and Karol (35) has just completed one of the most remarkable seasons in recent memory.
In November, he won the Donegal Cross Country Championships for the first time in Finn Valley, with Letterkenny AC teammates Ciaran Doherty and the aforementioned McGinley, third and fourth.
Two weeks later his scintillating 2017 cross country season reached its peak when he helped Ireland to gold medals in the British and Irish Masters’ Cross Country International at Gransha, Derry.
“It’s a testament to human endurance and Karol’s talent and ability,” his coach Teresa McDaid said.
Manager of the Irish Senior Women’s team at the recent European Cross Country Championships in Samorin, Slovakia, McDaid has been appointed the Senior Team Operations Manager for the European Athletics Championships in Berlin in August next.
“That’s what I love about athletics. It can offer you up a second chance and it’s never over ‘til it’s over,” she smiled.
“Karol was an outstanding youngster and was well known throughout the country when he left. It was a big loss to the sport at the time,” she recalled.
“He’s old school in his philosophy which brings its own challenges at times. There’s a toughness about him but he always had the ability and engine.
“It’s a great story. Here’s someone who possessed all this athletic talent and yet never realised his potential but he’s come back. Masters athletics will give him that chance and opportunity to fulfil his dreams,” she said.
“I’m excited to see what he can do on the road and track in 2018,” she added.
Overcoming Father Time for one last shot at glory appears to be what is driving Karol’s comeback in the sport.
Married to Sharon, the couple have one daughter Maizie (2). They live in New Mills and Karol works in Aldi.
“It’s funny. Over the years I always kept an eye on the papers to see who was running what times thinking to myself I could match that,” he said.
It was that curiosity which ultimately led him back into athletics but not before other sporting pursuits kept him busy for much of the past two decades.
“After a few years doing nothing, I started playing GAA with Milford and rugby with Letterkenny. All my family – even dad – played with Letterkenny but I didn’t even know the rules. I used to shout to the boys around me to tell me what to do,” he laughed.
Having found himself engrossed in athletics for much of his teenage years, Karol was really enjoying the ‘craic’ that came with participating in team sports.
He didn’t start playing soccer until he was 27 and, until last season, lined out as a midfielder with Whitestrand United in the Donegal League.
“I had signed for Whitestrand again for this season when Eoghan (McGinley) asked me to run. I had trained with him as a juvenile so I decided to go out to see how I would get on,” he said.
“I knew I had the ability but now I was doing it for me – I wasn’t doing it for anyone else or following what I had been told and I found myself enjoying it more and more,” he added.
Before too long, Karol was mixing it with the best club athletes in the county.
“There’s a great pool of lads who train together with Letterkenny. Initially I started running to get fit although, to be honest, I knew if I got fit I wouldn’t be too far away – from the local lads anyway – although I didn’t think I would get on as well as I did,” he said.
That first Donegal cross country title was quickly followed by a Masters Irish appearance which arrived after his third place finish in the national championships.
“I’m really enjoying it,” he enthused.
100 kilometre training weeks are now the norm and he’s already looking forward to the 2018 season.
“I plan to break my pbs for 5k and 10k and maybe run a half-marathon. I would also like to get back on the Irish tea,” he said.
When asked about his personal best time over 5k (15 minutes 10 seconds), Karol explains that it came half a lifetime ago, as a 17-year-old, while the 10k time (33 minutes) is much more recent, coming as it did in the middle of last summer.
“I started back running again to see what I could do.
“When I ran all those years ago people used to look at me and think I was mad going out in the hail and rain. Today, it’s nearly a fashion statement to be seen out running. Times have changed,” he mused.
Times may have indeed changed but Karol Duggan will continue to embrace the second chance that athletics has brought him.
Posted: 9:00 am January 6, 2018