TRIATHLON and international soccer may be poles apart in world sport but Limerickman Mark Higgins, formerly of Gillogue just outside the city, has been prominent in both.


TRIATHLON and international soccer may be poles apart in world sport but Limerickman Mark Higgins, formerly of Gillogue just outside the city, has been prominent in both.

Mark relocated to Chicago about two years ago and was signed up by a physical therapy company called AthletiCo.

AthletiCo have contracts with all the professional teams in Chicago such as The Bulls( basketball), The Bears (American football), The White Sox and The Cub (baseball).

"In May I was contacted by the U20s National Men's Soccer team trainer Ben Black and asked if I would be the therapist for the U20 men's team for the up-coming FIFA U20 World Cup hosted by Canada," Mark told us from his base in the US this week.

"My job with the team was basically to provide therapy for athletes in order to prevent injuries and enhance their recovery, provide therapy to injured players to enhance their recovery time and aid the coach and trainer at training sessions."

The US team was made up of almost all profession players. Freddy Adu (who signed with Portugal's Benefica over the summer) captained the side and he was one of two in the squad that have played for the senior team as well. Unfortunately for the US team they were drawn in the group of death with Poland, South Korea and tournament favourites Brazil.

"We played South Korea first in the Montreal Olympic Staduim and came away with a 1-1 draw," said Mark. "South Korea were all over us. The best thing about that game was that it provided a wake up call to the whole team. The next game was against Poland and it was a whole different story. Poland scored inside the first six minutes. We kept our composer and then fired three goals in before the end of the half and another three by the time the ref blew up the final whistle to give us a 6-1 victory.

"With goal difference on our side we were pretty much guaranteed a place in the second round, so even if Brazil beat us we would still get through. The Brazillian team was made up off all professionals. We scored first in the 31st minute with a long range shot from strike by Josmer Altidore. At the start of the second half we very close to double our lead with a great shot by Freddy Adu. Brazil equalised in the 72nd minute but the US kept up the pressure and we were rewarded on the 81st minute when Jomer scored his second goal to give us a 2-1 win.

The US advanced further with a second round win over Uruguay but lost out to an injury time goal in the quarter-finals against Austria. Argentina won the tournament when they beat the Czech Republic in the final.

"It was a great experience to work with some of the top soccer players in the US," Mark told us. "A lot of these guys have very bright soccer careers ahead of them and could be the stars of the future."

Mark Higgins was one of the biggest names on the Irish triathlon scene over the past decade. He won almost all the major races on this island, including the Hell of the West in Kilkee, captained the Munster triathlon team and represented his country in home, European and world events.

Mark set out on his triathlon career at the age of 15 and within a short time he was putting in daily 6am swim sessions of 6,000 metres at the UL pool. His dedication to training continued throughout his career. In May, 1994 he finished eighth in the All-Ireland Youth Triathlon after finishing first in the Munster event. It was the beginning of a list of honours that propelled him into the top echelon of Irish athletics.

He first represented Ireland in the European Junior Championships in Finland in 1997, finishing 35th overall and two years later his commitment to the sport was again rewarded when he captained the Irish Junior team which competed in the World Championships in Perth, Western Australia.

"I was keen to finish in the top 100 of that event," recalled Mark, "and I achieved that by coming in 75th, which was not a bad result at the time. I remember the heat was very challenging out there. A few years later I went to South Africa for six months to try and improve my times. I was hoping to get into the Irish team for the Sydney Olympics in 2000."

Mark was the leading young swimmer in this region since he was in his early teens. He joined the local Seal Swimming Club when he was eight years of age and went on to become a member of the Limerick squad with current Irish rugby international Paul O'Connell.

Apart from O'Connell, Mark has treated some high profile stars including John Travolta who suffered a back injury while playing golf in Adare some years ago.

A former student of St Munchin's College, Mark met Kelly Hannigan from Chicago, who can trace her roots back to County Mayo, when she were student at the University of Limerick. The couple got married last year in Chicago. Kelly is also a sports physio and qualified with her doctorate in the US.

The couple intend to return to Ireland next year and set up a practice locally.

Mark's brother Noel and his sister Lisa are also well known triathlon competitors with Lisa finishing with a good time in the Half Ironman event in Kenmare some years ago while his mother is a swimming and aerobics instructor at the University of Limerick.


Back to the top of the page