Limerick’s next top athlete has the world at her feet

Limerick athlete Sarah Lavin on her way to winning the women's 100m hurdles at this year's national track and field finals
Colm Kinsella talks to Sarah Lavin, the Limerick athlete regarded as one of the most exciting in Ireland, about her succesful season.

Colm Kinsella talks to Sarah Lavin, the Limerick athlete regarded as one of the most exciting in Ireland, about her succesful season.

“SOME people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.” - Colin Powell

TWELVE months ago, talented Limerick hurdler Sarah Lavin was forced to make the toughest call of her young life.

On scholarship to study Pre-Med at Princeton University in New Jersey last autumn, the Lisnagry teenager had to decide whether she should return to the Ivy League school after the Christmas break.

The 19-year-old’s demanding training schedule had taken its toll. She had developed a stress reaction on her shin.

“The condition was from overtraining,” Sarah Lavin explains.

“It was a really, really tough decision for me wondering if I would stick it out for the year in Princeton or if I would come home. You are torn between the two.

“It would have been easier stay because coming home at Christmas involved putting my hand up and saying ‘yes, it didn’t work out for me’ and answer questions from so many people.

“It was difficult to come back. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform for the European Junior Championships in the summer if I stayed. That was always my main goal. I am glad I made the decision I did.”

When Lavin returned to Limerick, she took a month-long break from athletics to give her shin time to heal. Back on the track, Lavin teamed up once again with her renowned coach Noelle Morrissey, a multiple British championship winner, at junior and intermediate level.

As Lavin settled back into life in Limerick at the start of 2013, she chose to volunteer at Milford Nursing Home.

“Working in Milford Nursing Home when I came home was really rewarding. It was so wonderful to see such an appreciation of life out there. It was something special. That kept me busy. It was a really nice time, when I could give something back and continue training at the highest possible levels.”

Sarah Lavin wanted to take up athletics from the time she was aged four or five. But she had to wait until she was seven to begin training with Emerald AC.

“I was always pestering my parents to let me get involved in running,” former Castletroy College student Lavin recalled.

“No club would take me for insurance purposes until I was seven. Off I went and I picked it up naturally. I managed to win my first All-Ireland juvenile championships that year at U-9 in the 60metres and 200metres.

“I was an extremely competitive child. I was winning a good bit and was beating boys my own age. I knew that ‘ok’ I am quite good at this. When I got to 13-14, it started to get into schools internationals and I started getting picked for teams two years out of age. It just all happened.

“Then, at 15, 16, that was my first exposure to the European level and the European Youth Olympic Festival.”

Lavin’s dedication to training and disciplined lifestyle as a budding athlete meant her teenage social life was curtailed. However, the talented sprint hurdler doesn’t believe she ‘missed out.’

“I don’t see it as missing out,” Lavin insisted.

“In fifth and sixth year, when people my age started going out to town, to parties and stuff, I couldn’t go because I had training in the morning, but I didn’t feel I was missing out. I love what I do. To me the experiences that I get from running would not be replaced by going to a party on a Saturday night.”

Lavin’s years of dedication has been rewarded with numerous national and international successes on the track.

In 2011 she made her first real mark on the international circuit by finishing third in the European Youth Olympics in the 100m Hurdles in Trabzon, Turkey, breaking the national youth record (U-18) in the process. 2013 has been a stellar year for Sarah. On the indoor circuit she broke the National Junior Record that had been previously held by Derval O’Rourke. She then proceeded to win the National Seniors title indoor and out.

Further notable wins followed this summer in Palafrugell – Spain, Geneva – Switzerland, when she broke Derval O’Rourke’s 13-year-old Irish junior record (13.61) twice on the same day, posting 13.50 in her heat and winning the ‘B’ final in 13.45 and later in Mannheim – Germany. A memorable outdoor season culminated at the European Junior Championships in Rieti, Italy where Lavin won silver and broke the national junior record yet again with a new mark of 13.34 seconds. Sarah had gone into the championships ranked fifth in the world as a junior and second in Europe.

She then returned to college this autumn and is studying Physiotherapy at UCD.

The Limerick hurdler, recently nominated for Athletics Ireland Junior Athlete of the Year Award, has set her sights on competing at both the senior World Indoor Championships next February and the European Athletics Championships (outdoors) in Zurich, Switzerland in August.

Lavin said: “The World Indoor Championships are on in Poland in February 2014. That will be a huge privilege to make as a 19-year-old. The world indoors is a huge level. My time has to improve by .2 of a second. For the outdoor season my main aim will be the European Senior Championships in August. I am really looking forward to that one. I have ran the qualifying time for the Europeans already three times. I still have huge room for improvement, which I see that as a positive.”