Shape I’m In: Emma O’Reilly

Emma O’Reilly’s book, The Race To Truth – Blowing The Whistle On Lance Armstrong And Cycling’s Doping Culture, has been short-listed for Sports Book of the Year in the Irish Book Awards.

Born in Tallaght, the former soigneur or personal assistant gained worldwide renown for being one of the earliest whistleblowers to expose cycling’s doping culture. The book tells the story of O’Reilly’s part in the rise and fall of Armstrong. Writing it – and seeing it so well received – means a lot, says the 44-year-old.

“It means more than I originally thought it would. It has been cathartic. It’s a reason to move on and has helped me close that chapter in my life – helped me finish the journey.”

O’Reilly assumed her book would be read by men because of its sports background but she says it has resonated with women too. “Girlfriends and wives read it because it’s a humane story, about the decisions we make in life.”

Asked if there was a single personality trait that sustained her through the challenging and fraught journey of blowing the whistle on what was going on in the cycling world, she says: “Your gut tells you you’ve got to do something. When I make a decision I stand by it. And I did nothing but tell the truth – I didn’t embellish it.”

Now single and living in South Manchester, she acknowledges her ex-boyfriend Mike Carlisle’s support through it all. “He never asked me to back down.”

Her passion for cycling began when she was a child. “My brother used to cycle and so did I. It was part of growing up. We were both in a club.” Today, O’Reilly runs a physiotherapy practice – The Body Clinic.

The public can cast their vote on the best books via the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards website, www.bgeirishbookawards.ie. Votes can be cast until midnight tonight and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 26.

What shape are you in?

I’m very bad. I was good over the summer – I went out on the bike three or four times a week. Since then the weather has got cold and I’ve been eating more than exercising. I’m just now getting into spinning and the Wattbike.

Do you have any health concerns?

I’m fairly robust. I try to stay healthy but I don’t get too caught up in it.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I love fruit, especially apples. And vegetables. I wouldn’t have five-a-day every day but over the course of the week it averages out as that.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Red wine and cheese, ice-cream and sweets – I’ve got an awful sweet tooth.

What would keep you awake at night?

Everything – I’m a terrible sleeper. I sleep for a couple of hours, from 11pm to 1am. Then I’m awake until about 4am and then I sleep again. Half my family are like that.

How do you relax?

I’m starting to get into mindfulness, which I find a good way to train myself to be calm. Exercise is one of my big forms of relaxing. I like exercise for exercise sake. I walk my dog, Bán – he’s a Boxer. I also have another little dog, a Jack Russell called Cara – she comes out with us too sometimes.

What’s your favourite smell?

I love the smell of lilies and roses, the smell of fresh coffee and something baking in the oven. I love the smell on holidays when you’re by the sea.

What would you change about your appearance?

My legs – they’re huge. I’d love to be able to wear short skirts that would come either to my knee or above my knee.

When did you last cry?

I’ve become much more of a crier since I got older. My dogs had kennel cough – that made me cry. Stuff on TV – seeing something happening to kids or vulnerable people – that would touch me and make me cry.

What trait do you least like in others?

It’s a toss up between manipulation and insincerity – manipulation and the cunning that goes with it would probably be what I least like.

And in yourself?

I can be a bit over-sensitive and I wish I wasn’t. I’ll either be quick to attack and leap on the defensive or I’ll get withdrawn, go quiet and think ‘oh, poor me’.

Do you pray?

Now and then – I’ll pray for someone’s intentions. I definitely believe. I always say I’m culturally a Catholic rather than a practising Catholic.

What would cheer up your day?

There’s nothing like a bit of good news, either for me or for someone close to me. And everyday when I come home and the dogs are so happy to see me, I think life’s not that bad.


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