Kellie Harrington: 'People think you are invincible as an athlete, that you're always positive'

Talk to athletes who frequented the Sport Ireland Institute in Abbotstown before the world was shunted off its axis and many will tell you that a few minutes in the company of Kellie Harrington can do wonders for someone struggling to stay on the hamster wheel.
Kellie Harrington: 'People think you are invincible as an athlete, that you're always positive'
FBD brand ambassador and 2018 World Championship gold-medallist Kellie Harrington. FBD Insurance is a principal partner to Team Ireland since September 2018. FBD is supporting Team Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls for the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo which will now take place in 2021. It is this same spirit of support and protection that sees FBD as Ireland’s only homegrown insurer support more than 500,000 policyholders for over 50 years. Picture: Dan Sheridan
FBD brand ambassador and 2018 World Championship gold-medallist Kellie Harrington. FBD Insurance is a principal partner to Team Ireland since September 2018. FBD is supporting Team Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls for the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo which will now take place in 2021. It is this same spirit of support and protection that sees FBD as Ireland’s only homegrown insurer support more than 500,000 policyholders for over 50 years. Picture: Dan Sheridan

Talk to athletes who frequented the Sport Ireland Institute in Abbotstown before the world was shunted off its axis and many will tell you that a few minutes in the company of Kellie Harrington can do wonders for someone struggling to stay on the hamster wheel.

The 2018 world lightweight champion is a reliable fountain of positivity and bounce but she is no different to the rest of humanity in having her good days and her bad days through a period that has played havoc with everybody's heads and schedules.

The Dubliner hasn't made a habit of utilising sports psychologists. She prefers to reach for that tool as and when she needs it but there have been sessions of late with Kevin McManamon, the Dublin footballer who works as a psychology consultant with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.

Harrington has also reached out to Olivia Hurley, another proponent in that particular field, while chats with family are an invaluable means of dealing with the ups and downs that continue to visit us all through a life where so much has been stilled.

"People think as an athlete that you're invincible sometimes and that you're always positive,” she explained. “Like, that's the furthest thing away from it.

"You're not always positive but sometimes for me to get out of a negative feeling I have to act like I'm positive, if that makes sense.”

Her method is simple. Get moving. The brain may protest at first but the more the body kicks in and the endorphins kick off the easier it gets.

It's not the Institute with its camaraderie and collective drive but she is doing what she can as she can for now.

The garage at home has been transformed into a well-stocked gym and her partner Mandy helps with the training. Videos of her shadow boxing and on the bag are sent to coaches who respond with technical tweaks and other observations.

If nothing else, this pause has allowed her and many other sportspeople the opportunity to zone in on areas that might have been lightly brushed over while the world was still spinning so fast.

Harrington is working on her fitness, her technique and her power.

“I feel like I have improved with that but I won't really know until I get in [to Abbotstown] and I'm able to spar and be able to tell,” she reasoned. “It's kind of like a waiting game now what I have been doing for the last ten weeks.”

Patience is not a new virtue for her.

An injury to her right hand last year cost her appearances at the European Games, the European Women's Elite Championships, the World Championships and the Irish Nationals before a return after six months out with four bouts at a multi-nation tournament in Finland in January.

She was due to face Aneta Rygielska of Poland in the Olympic qualifiers in London in March but, while the event began as planned even with the virus spreading exponentially, it was nixed before she could get in the ring and claim the two wins needed to book a place in Tokyo.

Now here she is training away in splendid isolation and trying to ignore the speculation over whether Tokyo will happen at all.

Harrington heard the IOC's Thomas Bach speaking about the need for a vaccine on the radio the other day and basically blocked it out two seconds later.

“Because the Olympics aren't on I'm no longer looking at them anymore. I'm back to looking at the qualifiers and whatever comes before that.

"I'm back to the crawling stage now. I was so close to walking, I was so close to the Olympics but they're gone now. Another year. It's out of my head again.”

Control the controllables and all that. "Once I qualify then I'll worry about the Olympics. If you don't qualify it's never going to happen.”

There's more than enough to be getting on with anyway.

Harrington has been supporting the #InThisTogether campaign which is aiming to support people through the Covid-19 crisis, there has been an appearance on RTE's Home School Hub and some garden furniture shopping for her ma.

Underpinning it all is her work as a cleaner at St Vincent's Hospital in Fairview, a job to which she returned at the onset of the pandemic.

It's a break from training and it's also the chance to connect with people she cares for, and about. It is also a role that doesn't come without risk.

"I suppose with everything it is stressful in that you're worrying, 'what if it gets in here? What will happen if it gets in here?' Because we've a lot of older patients in the hospital and you do worry about them.

"To me, they're like family. The ward I work on, if anything happened to them I'd be absolutely devastated.”

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