This week, Enistymon CBS students started working with Sky Sports ambassador Thomas Barr, who is hoping to represent Ireland in the 400m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing later this year and at the Olympics in Rio in 2016.
The Barr family, who are from Ferrybank in Waterford, could have double representation in Rio if Thomas’s sister Jesse also makes it. Jesse is already an Olympian, having represented Ireland at the London Olympics in the 400m hurdles.
Thomas, who is studying for a Masters in Sports Performance at UL, will seek to help the Ennistymon pupils in sporting and academic terms during his visits to the school.
“We’re using sport as a model. We do this thing called the Six Keys To Success. We go through all of the different attributes of an athlete and what it takes to get to the top. You can apply that to anywhere in life, no matter what you’re doing. It could apply to academics, music, drama or absolutely anything. You apply the same principles. That’s what we’re trying to achieve; to get the best out of everybody no matter what it is we’re doing. That’s what the programme is aimed at,” the 22-year-old four-time Irish champion explained.
Given that he is not much older than some of the students he will be dealing with, Thomas is hoping that they will click with him.
“I’m just out of the school system myself, so you’d hope that I’d be able to relate to the lads. When I was in school I was a completely mediocre athlete. I was nothing special. It was only in the last four years, when I moved to college, that it really took off. As regards sport anyway, I was always the last one to be picked. I was fast in a straight line sometimes, so I’d have been picked if we were going on athletics trips but we had a small athletics team,” he revealed.
However, he says he received a good ground in athletics from his local club. “Ferrybank gave me a great technical and social base. Then I moved to UL and I came under the wings of Hayley and Drew Harrison. They stripped me back and built me back up. They taught me the ways of hurdling and their training programme really worked for me. Jesse was also with Hayley and Drew for five years. She’s back now after doing a Masters in England for two years,” Thomas said.
If he is to represent Ireland in Beijing this year, he’ll have to run a qualifying time in the coming months.
“We have to run a certain qualifying time, within a period of time leading up to the world championships, to show current form. We have to run 49.5 between now and July. My competitions don’t start until May, so I’ll have two or three months of competition to get the standard.
“Rio has a bigger window. I think they are going to allow qualification from now. So if I get a qualification standard now, it would cover you, although I’d have to run a certain percentage of the qualifying time before Rio. I’d have to show current form before going out,” Thomas added.
He is desperately hoping to join his sister as an Olympian.
“She can call herself an Olympian now. Now it’s a dream that we both have. We’ve been talking about it so much and asked about it so much that it’s in our heads now. It’s just a matter of when and not if, touch wood.”
In his own experience, Thomas has managed to mix sport with study at second and third level.
“I did enough to get through. That was something my parents were very good at. They made sure we kept the balance between training and getting school work done. The weekends were my own. I stuck with that all the way through college. It does take a lot of discipline but it pays off in the end,” he said.
Ennistymon CBS history teacher, John Galvin, is delighted to have Thomas Barr working with the students.
“He’s a good role model for them. Overall, the students will improve learning, personal motivation and engagement with school life through this programme. It’s something that is non-classroom based,” he said.
As part of this project, the fifth year students will walk, run or jog to Lahinch from Ennistymon in April to fundraise for sports equipment to be used in the school.
By Peter O’Connell