Interview - Orlagh Duddy
Orlagh, can you tell me a bit about what you do?
I work as a Performance Manager in the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland. I am interacting with the athletes and coaches in the various sports. In some of the sports I am working really closely with athletes and managing some of the facilities and services that they need and in some of the sports we’re working a bit closer with the management or the coaches or even a bit higher up in the boards.
How did you get into it?
When I was younger I wanted to do sport. I started rowing when I was about 14. Then I was doing chemistry and maths A levels and I wanted to go away to university to do sports; my mum has seven sisters and she would have been the first one to go to university and my mum was a biology teacher. Everybody had to do, you know, law, science, engineering - you didn’t want to do sport. Mummy was like, what, what are you going to do? Where are you going to get a job with that? So I went and studied electrical engineering at Queen’s [University Belfast] and then I did a business and education diploma in Tulsa in America.
I did quite a bit of rowing while I was there. So when I came back from America, I worked as an engineer for a few years, but I was rowing with the Irish National team. And then six or seven years ago I was with the Northern Ireland team and then a job came up in the Sports Institute which is more line management. So it was still getting into the sports side of things, but it was really from my business and engineering background.
What is it you love about rowing?
I just love the freedom and I love being able to go out on the river and use every muscle in my body. I started rowing when I was 14 because I had been in hospital for a long time with really bad knees and then I’d been bed-bound for a couple of months. I was in that kind of situation, when you go to walk and you actually can’t.
I needed a lot of physio and I was basically learning how to walk again, which was incredibly stressful for everybody involved and I was only 12 (and then 13 I was back in hospital again). I remember about nine months later sitting crying thinking will I never be able to run. One of the things that the doctor said – he rowed in Derry – was non-weight bearing exercise would be fantastic. The weight-bearing ones had too much impact on my knees, so I joined the rowing club which was down the street.
People don’t appreciate everything they have and I’d say for the first 15 years of rowing, that’s inspired me every day. I didn’t compete against the person beside me or anyone else. It was just against myself because I felt ‘how lucky am I to be able to do this’?
But I love just the solitude of being in the water - it’s so lovely out in the middle of the water, you could be anywhere. So far, it’s been a fantastic journey.
Do you row by yourself or in pairs?
I scull quite a bit but I would have rowed in crew boats in four. I’d been in a four for a couple of years and it was like best friends you have for life. Then I rowed in an eight [at university] and the girls were all really close; the camaraderie is absolutely brilliant.
And then to compete nationally you have to race a single and when I retired I raced in a double, and then now it’s just getting back in the boat again and enjoying it. Just having... it’s so good for your children - even going away for an hour and then coming back to them and being completely refreshed.
Any plans for the future, any big goals that you’d like to achieve?
My goodness... when you have children your life changes! I’ve spent my whole life with my own goals, being very selfish. It was all about me, but I’m not sure I know any athletes at top level who aren’t like that. All of a sudden I have my children and the goals are nearly all towards them.
I’m trying to keep that competitive thing down in me, because I mean, if I let go I would be out of the house seven days a week training; even now where I’m only going out whenever the children are in bed and all of a sudden it’s crept into maybe when they’re awake. I mean - it’s like if you released me I’d be back probably training seven days a week, two or three hours in a day.
What’s been the hardest bit do you think about competing? Were there any downsides? Did you have to sacrifice a lot?
You sacrifice all your time at home and stuff but you’re doing what you love, what you want and if it’s not what you want... I know lots of people maybe get stuck and they don’t have the option to get out, so there are things you would sacrifice because you’re missing stuff.
I wouldn’t see any of it as a sacrifice. Now, it was really difficult sometimes being away and being in different camps and some of the coaches that we would have had mightn’t have been the kindest of people. They’d have been very harsh on you and you’re living in a small environment, so they’re like a complete dictator.
But then that’s such a small part of the time. I look back at most of it with quite fond memories.
What would your high point have been?
It was probably racing the single with Irish national team and getting a medal at one of the World Cups.
Just to finish off what would you say your greatest vice is and your greatest virtue?
Oh my goodness, my greatest vice. It’s probably cheese and wine. Cheese and chocolate and wine are probably my greatest vices. My greatest virtue? I think have quite a lot of integrity and fairness and I think it’s a really important thing to have as well, too.
Many thanks Orlagh.