World champion, Olympic bronze medallist, European medallist — Rob Heffernan is proud to go out with no
regrets and nothing left to prove.
In the end, it was age and the realisation that, at the age of 40, he wasn’t going to get better, and with it the
resulting lack of hunger that made the Togher native decide it is time to walk away as one of the greatest Irish athletes of all time.
He said he has been “very, very lucky” and had a “great career” but is stepping away at the right time.
“I was always obsessive and hungry,” said Heffernan. “I always wanted to get better. I never really got to enjoy any moments along the way because I would always be very self-critical of myself and look at other areas that I could improve on.
"I think at the point where you’re not going to improve anymore and the decline starts to come in, you start recognising that it’s very, very hard to keep going.
“I never wanted to be a journeyman. I could have stayed in the sport this year and collected top funding. I won the athlete of the year last year and could have gone on to the Olympics but I wasn’t going to be competitive at the level I was competing at. Then it’s time to step aside. Time catches up with all of us I suppose.”
Heffernan recognised that he no longer has the obsessive selfishness required to remain at the top of the sport and said that he put “savage” demands on his wife Marian, herself a former Olympic athlete, over the years.
“I did Dancing with the Stars this year,” he said.
“I said I wanted to have a break from athletics and have a different perspective on things and maybe I would come back and be really hungry — but no. You need to be 100% and you need to be really, really selfish.
“It’s not just me but it’s the people that you pull off. The life I was giving Marian, the demands I was putting on her, being away from the kids. All of these little things add up all the time and they kind of make you a little bit softer and you need to be like a raw animal to be a sportsman.”
Heffernan said he has “no regrets” about his career.
and said the tough times he and his wife went through were what eventually made him a world-class athlete:
“We had so many tough times,” he said. “I remember back in 2006, when me and Marian were renting together, we used to have to bring the rubbish down to her mam’s house because we couldn’t afford refuse [charges]. I went back working at one stage with my brother on a building site, delivering coal with my brother-in-law when I was injured. It was Marian who was going: ‘You are great, you can get back.’
“So, I can appreciate the good people more so now when you become more reflective about the people you surround yourself with.”