From the launch of her brand new website, to preparations for the birth of her second child, it’s going to be a busy year for Derval O’Rourke, writes Ciara McDonnell.
Derval O’Rourke is tired. When we meet, she’s 31 weeks pregnant with her second baby, and is suffering from the sleeplessness that comes with the later stages of pregnancy. She decided to put the time to good use, and spent much of last night listening to hypnobirthing podcasts.
As mum to Dafne (2), the Olympian knows exactly what she is up against when it comes to giving birth, and she wants to do it differently this time. Like many athletes, she found her first experience a difficult one.
“I’m doing it because last time I thought: ‘I’m an athlete, I’m tough’, and then it was quite chaotic and her birth was really tough. I found it really hard to handle because I had never considered this way to be an option.”
Like most self-confessed control freaks, the shock of childbirth not going the way you plan it can be a rude awakening, and an experience that takes some time to absorb and move on from. That’s where hypnobirthing comes in.
“This time I want to try to have the capacity to calm myself down a bit better. I had a very easy pregnancy, and I just assumed that the birth would be the same. She ended up OP and never turned. I didn’t know that was even a thing!”
Under the care of Dr Keelin O’Donoghue (“I am mad about her”), Derval feels ready for the challenge of bringing her new baby into the world. She approached her pregnancy in the way she approaches all aspects of her life, and that’s by identifying the areas in which she is least qualified, and surrounding herself with the best experts in the field that she can find.
It’s a life-long ethos that has served the former athlete well. With 14 years as a world-class athlete, she was a four-time European medallist and an Olympian. Following her retirement from professional sport in 2014, Derval took the opportunity to indulge her love of food, and her two bestselling cookbooks Food For the Fast Lane and The Fit Foodie catapulted her slap, bang into the health and wellness arena.
Of course, back in 2014 not even Derval, with her laser-sharp business acumen and forecasting skills, honed while gaining a Masters in Business Management from Smurfit Business School, could have predicted how technology would turn the tide on the health and wellness industry, and turned it into the online phenomenon that it is today.
Derval’s website Derval.ie has just launched a subscription service, giving members access to a hugely comprehensive collection of healthy recipes, workout videos and focus-based tips and tricks to help us achieve our lifestyle goals.
The website has been a work-in-progress for a number of years. She built it twice before bringing on business partner Greg O’Gorman, formerly of the Kilkenny Group, to handle the tech side of things. “Tech is really hard!” she laughs. “Greg was marketing director of Kilkenny Group for 13 years, and one of the main things he did there was to build their online business. I believe that you can’t buy experience, and I feel very lucky to have met Greg, and that he really gets what I’m trying to do with the business.”
From Joe Wicks marketing six packs and coconut oil via 20-minute burpee sessions, to influencers promising the ultimate booty in just eight weeks, the industry is saturated with promises that are simply not sustainable or achievable. “I did so much market research for the site, and I know a lot about the market we are operating in,” she explains.
The model for Derval.ie is to provide masses of expert-driven content to time-poor people at a price that is achievable for most of us. Subscriptions start at €7 per month (“the price of two cups of coffee”) and the pick-up since the start of January has been, in the most part, from women, which delights Derval.
“We are seeing busy women, like me and my friends and also women who are a little older,” she says. “It’s mainly people who want really simple stuff that has legitimacy behind it. We have loads of mums too and they send us videos of their kids doing exercise videos, which is insanely cute.” Parenting and pregnancy is a space that Derval is hugely interested in, given that she is currently growing a human, and is an area that she believes is massively underserviced. She spent an hour and a half on the phone to a Cork-based expert on pregnancy nutrition last week, and is fizzing with excitement about what she has learned.
Career athletes are by their nature open to having a team around them, and that’s very much reflected in the way Derval O’Rourke operates. She constantly surrounds herself with people who she believes are the best at what they do, and when it comes to science and nutrition, will not advocate for a recipe or a technique unless there is research to back it up.
“I don’t try to be something I’m not,” she points out.
“Even with my column every week, I sit down with nutritional scientist Aishling O’Hea and we work out what content we need. It’s a collaborative effort, and lots of my work is.”
Derval.ie is divided into three sections: Food, Fitness and Focus.
With new recipes and fitness videos uploaded weekly in the Food and Fitness sections, as well as eight-week programmes to get you started, the Focus section is perhaps the most interesting of all.
Athletes utilise certain mindset techniques to improve their performance, and Derval believes that the key to lasting change is incorporating some of them into your daily life.
“I feel like if you are going to make changes to make your life better, there has to be a certain amount of mental strategy that you need to utilise. I genuinely think that what you do in sport at a high level is essentially a way of being as healthy as possible. I love taking the principles of that thinking and applying them in a way that works for my audience. I certainly don’t do the same amount of training as when I was running, but I follow the vast majority of the core elements.”
The main problem for people striving to improve their health and fitness, reckons Derval, is timing.
“I think people want a quick fix and I think by the time people come to address their health issues, they are in a bit of a dark place with it,” she says.
Derval knows exactly what it feels like to be at sea with yourself, and believes that the only way to find a way back is with small, regular changes.
“I was totally lost after Dafne was born,” she admits. “It took me a while to figure out that it was OK for my general well-being to be a priority in my life. I really found that hard.”
Like so many of us, Derval herself feels the enduring pressure of being a woman in today’s world.
“Whether you’re working or not, you are doing so much. To try to find some time to take care of yourself is really difficult. That’s why at the moment, all the workouts on my site are home-based and 20 minutes long, because a lot of the time it’s all the time we can spare — a lot of the time it’s all I can spare.”
With almost 25,000 followers on Instagram, Derval is officially an “influencer”.
Just like when she was competing professionally, she is choosing to navigate the waters of this arena in her own way. She doesn’t do paid posts, instead highlighting products by small Irish brands she admires. Her gut instinct is something that has stood to her in the past, and she is trusting it once more with the website. “As an athlete, I rarely did things that didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t play the game a certain way, and I am keeping that value set with online work.”
Of course, in just over two month’s time, Derval’s business baby will have to make room for her second real-life baby, and she has been busy stockpiling work to allow her as much time as possible with the new addition.
“I was joking with Greg this week that I’ll probably be trying to work while I’m in labour,” she laughs. “I breastfed Dafne for six months, I’m going to try and breastfeed number two and there’s a certain reality around that and your boobs being available at all times. Also I think it’s a really important time, so I do want to carve out some time.”
Derval knows she will be checking in on the business while operating as CEO to her two children, and that, she says, is OK.
“I’ve come to realise that in life, nothing is right or wrong. Everyone is different and as long as it works for you and your family, it’s the best thing.”
With thanks to Hayfield Manor, Cork.
Make up by Lola Desmond