Mary Cullen came perilously close to walking away from athletics.
Devoid of funding and beset by a plethora of injuries, her track career had effectively ground to a halt.
Her family, her coach and her boyfriend convinced her otherwise and this afternoon she will toe the starting line for the women’s 5,000m at Santry, her first time competing at the national championships since 2007.
Cullen’s return to form, which has brought her within six seconds of the World and Olympic qualifying time over 5km, has largely been due to a first uninterrupted summer of competition since 2008.
“I have run three 5km races this past six weeks which is more 5km races than I’ve run in the past six years combined,” said the 32-year old Sligo native this week.
“It is an absolute joy to be back fit and healthy. The fact that I haven’t been at nationals in nine-years puts it into perspective all the injuries that have happened.” The problems for Cullen can be traced back to the spring of 2009, a stress fracture on her pelvis and a lump on her brain which required surgery putting an end to her season. She was forced off the track at the height of her powers.
Having finished fourth at the European Cross-Country championships in Brussels in December of 2008, she kicked on the following spring when posting 8.43.74 over 3,000m indoors – breaking Sonia O’Sullivan’s national record in the process.
“I was at my pinnacle at that time. I was really hoping that summer to possibly break 15-minutes for the 5km, go to the World Championships and really give a good showing.
“That is when the frustration started and there was just one breakdown after another.
“A pelvic stress fracture kept me out of the London Olympics. I had Achilles surgery in May of 2014 which kept me out for a good six or seven months before I could get back proper training.
“Then I had the stress fracture in the foot this past April which put me back seven-weeks.”
Given she’s spent more time on the physio’s table than on the track these past six years, her funding from Athletics Ireland has long since been cut off.
“I was over to Munich to Dr Muller and spent a good bit of money there trying to find out was there something biomechanically going on with me.If it hadn’t been for Ray Treacy’s faith in me to get back and my mother, father and boyfriend supporting me financially, I don’t know what would have happened.
“It was more me that wanted to pack it in. I would have said to them that I was relying on them too heavily, I was relying on others to keep my athletics career going.
“I owe a lot to Mark and my parents. ”
So why stay coming back despite set-back after set-back? “It is a big part of me and I want to keep it going until I become an Olympian. That remains the goal.”
Highlights of the GloHealth Senior track and field championship will be shown tomorrow night on RTÉ Two (8pm).
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