Orla Barry is ready for the next chapter in her life.
The double Paralympic medallist and one of Ireland’s most decorated athletes announced her retirement on Monday, with the 30-year-old adamant that the time is right to step away.
“To be an elite athlete, you have to give it 100%. At this stage in my life, I am not prepared to make those sacrifices anymore.
“I have a lot of different things happening. I am getting married next year. We are building a house and I just qualified as a teacher.
“I have been competing at an elite level for 15 years. I have nine medals from major championships. I have Paralympic bronze and silver.
“I have World silver and European gold. My first major was a European gold in 2012. And it kept rolling every year right up to last year.
“I started in sport when I was nine. I went along to an athletics competition with my mam. I came away saying I want to be a Paralympian. I got the bug. I started at the very bottom rung of the ladder and I climbed every rung until I made it to a Paralympics.”
And it never lost its appeal.
“There was always more to achieve, that is what was driving me and that gave me the dedication. I was in the gym three times a week. Three or four times a week, we would have been outside throwing. There were some sessions, particularly pre-season, where you would be doing 100 discus throws in one session.
“I also did Pilates, it was important for the health of my hips, back and my shoulders. As a Paralympic athlete you are going to have wear and tear in your body. I am a double above the knee amputee. The rest of my body is working overtime for the fact that half my body is missing. Cardio sessions too. It all added up to about 10 sessions a week.”
Sport is full of highs and lows. The highlight is easy: “The 2012 Paralympic games. It was my first Paralympic medal. The nicest part was I had over 100 supporters that night in London in a sold-out Olympic Stadium.
“My competition ran really late that night so the only people left in the stadium were my supporters. It was great to be able to hear the support and to be able to see them all. The support I got in my community in Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda, I will always be grateful for that. They always did lovely homecomings for me.”
The low was to come three years later. “The deepest low was in 2015, my main competitor was drug tested positive and my medal from the World championships that year was upgraded from bronze to silver. But you did think ‘what else does she owe me?’
“I had been competing against her for over 10 years. Did she hold back my career? Did it stop me getting on the podium?
“I know I was 100% clean, as I believe all Irish athletes are. Ireland is fantastic at testing their athletes and it is unfortunate other countries aren’t as good. That medal was upgraded and I don’t know if there were others that should have been. Unfortunately as well, she took the European record from me and her name is associated with it.”
Barry says she would like to remain involved and pass on her knowledge to other athletes. “I would love to stay in a coaching role with the Irish Wheelchair Association. They rely very heavily on volunteers. When I started, it was those volunteers that got me to the elite level. I want to give back. I would love to help them with the knowledge I have specifically for seated throwing. My sport is such a specialised sport and I want to see it grow.”
Her home GAA club of Fr O’Neill’s is in action this weekend in the All-Ireland Club championship, so there is no shortage of excitement in the area.
“I want to wish them all the best for Saturday in the All- Ireland club final. I really hope they can go all the way again (14 years ago, they won the All-Ireland junior title). We will have a mighty homecoming.
“Finally, I want to thank my family, my friends, my fiancé Michael O’Neill, my coaches, and everyone who was involved over the last number of years. Talbot Fitness in Midleton Park Hotel as well who would have sponsored my membership during my journey in sport.”