I sat my last Leaving Cert exam on a Wednesday in June and the following Saturday I flew to the States to work as an Au Pair for that summer. I ended up staying six weeks longer than originally planned and it meant that I was away for the exam results and, following that, the arrival of a large mysterious package from the school I had just left.

When my mother opened this unexpected, large bulky envelope out tumbled, what appeared to be, hundreds of small pieces of paper of different sizes. Some were lined others were house stationery and all were handwritten. A few bore her signature, but the majority had my father’s, or at least an excellent forgery of his. Despite the number, the theme was consistent, “Dear Miss So and so, Nichola will be unable to attend PE today as she has a dental appointment at…..” “Dear Miss So and so, please excuse Nichola from PE today as she has a sore foot. Reading through them I was very misfortunate and had experienced every type of sprain and injury known to mankind. I should also have had perfect teeth given the amount of dental appointments I attended. I don’t think I went to one PE class for the whole of 6th Year, and there was a corresponding note for each missed session. I’m sure the teacher knew that the dental appointments, twisted ankles, suspected cancer of the big toe, were fabrications. I’m sure she knew that my father hadn’t written a single note, but she never said anything. I kept my head down, never caused any trouble and got on with some work while the others went to PE. It was better for the teacher too as she had one less slow, hindrance in her otherwise athletic class. On reflection she also knew that she would have the last laugh as she was carefully putting each forged note on my school file. I thought she was putting them in the bin.

Not inactive

I wasn’t inactive. I was a decent tennis player, I liked swimming and I cycled everywhere but I disliked team and school sports. I was tall and so for the first few weeks of secondary school I was always one of the first picked for the basketball team. I was found out in no time and was soon relegated to that group of misfits that are reluctantly chosen at the very end; the overweight, the awkward and the downright uncoordinated. I was a little bit of each. Hockey looked far too robust and dangerous and so held little appeal and my height and broadness were a handicap when attempting to leap over gymnastic equipment or swing from bars. I also detested the outfit. Short, shiny nylon oversized knickers were unflattering on the leanest, longest and most beautiful, never mind those of us who were at best average. So I did what any self respecting person would do, I chose not to participate. While I may have been self conscious I certainly wasn’t self loathing enough to put myself through weekly humiliation. Excuses and notes were the answer. I’ve given that background so that you will understand the weight of my next revelation.

Miracles will never cease!

Twenty years after going to such lengths to avoid all athletic pursuits I’ve started running! Well, I mean ‘running’ in the loosest, possible sense of the word; flailing about in a sort of pseudo asthmatic fashion is probably more accurate. I turn up twice a week to the RSC for the Waterford Athletic Club’s beginners’ group and lug my bulk around the track. I run a bit and walk a bit and no matter where I start off in the pack I always end up at the back; always the last one over the line. I am a remedial runner. My running isn’t pretty, elegant or fast. In my mind I am Usain Bolt but in reality I am more Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard. If you’ve seen the movie, Run Fat Boy Run, I am Simon Pegg. And yet the coach is kindness itself and patient beyond belief. He doesn’t laugh loudly when I pant home eventually. He doesn’t shout disparagingly, “Run fat girl, run”, but remains remarkably encouraging and positive. He exhorts about goals such as fun runs and mini marathons, when one lap around the RSC in a half decent time without needing an ambulance will be a major personal achievement. His faith is impressive.

I wish I could tell you that I love it, but the truth is I’m still trying to figure out if I even like it. Fortunately I genuinely do like the people involved and look forward to going for that reason alone.

Tremendous facility

The RSC is a tremendous facility and it’s great to be able to run on a soft track, in a safe and well lit environment. At present I am in a permanent state of soreness and yet I find it really interesting how I am now compelled to go. I’ve had several genuine reasons to skip it recently and yet I’ve still found myself miraculously huffing and puffing around after I’d resolved earlier in the day that I wouldn’t make it at all. I also have a good friend who kindly runs with me on a third day of the week who is keeping me on the straight and narrow.

My main reason for exposing myself to you as a useless runner is that I discovered the other night that the coaching is all voluntary. What they are providing in terms of health alone is priceless and that’s before you add the value of the friendships made, the craic to be had and the sense of achievement for all. When we think of volunteerism we often associate it with charitable efforts and forget those that are giving in other areas. Many, many people are dedicating their own personal time towards the betterment of others in running, boxing and many other disciplines and we can too easily take them for granted. Thanks to all the volunteers out there. You make Waterford a great place to live.