One of my earliest memories of my friend Catherine is a song we learnt in senior infants in national school. “Two little boys”, by Theodore Morse and Edward Madden.
“Two little boys had two little toys,
Each had a wooden horse.
Gaily they played, each summer day,
Warriors both of course…”
The song tells the story of two boys who are friends in childhood. Jack breaks the head off his horse so that Joe shares his horse with him, explaining he would never leave him to cry. Years pass and the boys grow to men and go to war. Joe is wounded, falls off his horse and is rescued by Jack. Jack proclaims that he would never leave his childhood friend to die.
Two little girls; ebony hair; blonde curls
Senior infants, St. Michael’s National School, Upper Glanmire, Cork, 1986. Tiny people shuffling on miniature white chairs. On the wall, over the coat hook, our teacher had a picture of a giant with a grizzly beard, his head surrounded by dirty dishes and pots and pans. She told a bunch of five and six year olds a story about how the giant never cleaned his house and everything was dirty and messy and he could never invite people to visit him. She may have been trying to stress the importance of personal hygiene into our ever developing brains, but at five years old, I’m pretty sure I was thinking about asking Catherine a very important question once the bell rand at 2pm.
“Catherine, can we play in your house today? Cos I don’t have a farm. And your Mammy makes nice apple tarts. And can we feed the calves?”
As little girls, we spent hours playing on the farm, feeding the calves, jumping off hay bales, discussing if we took the tractor for a spin up the back field, would we get caught?
At sleep overs, Catherine’s Mum would insist we said our prayers before bed. Kneeling at the bedside, we would giggle uncontrollably while “counting” the number of “Hail Mary’s” we had recited. I can clearly remember Catherine’s Mum exclaiming,
“Catherine, the number seven doesn’t come after the number two! You girls need to say all ten Hail Mary’s. And stop the giggling!”
The fact that Catherine’s Mum was smirking while trying to contain the energy of two nine year old girls made us giggle more.
(Confirmation day – 4 May 1993)
Two teenage girls, paths begin to diverge
Our paths diverged after primary school because we went to different secondary schools. Luckily, we lived close to each other (approximately six fields apart) so on weekends, we would walk halfway to meet each other. One Saturday afternoon, aged fourteen, Catherine was waving at the bottom of the lane that lead to her house. She was giggling already so I knew she had something important to tell me.
“Wait until you see what we got at school on Friday!”, she said
We raced towards her house.
“Tell me what it is! C’mon!, I said.
“No. I’ll have to show you. It’s so funny. C’mon, let’s run faster”, said Catherine.
That Friday, everyone in Catherine’s class had been given a little goodie bag. Catherine had hidden the bag under her bed. Retrieving the bag, we ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Through giggles, Catherine whispered,
“We had a talk on sex and stuff like that at school. Look what the teacher gave us!”
Did we fill the condom up with water and pretend it was a water balloon? No. That was of no interest to two 14 year old girls. Did we discuss that sanitary pads look like nappies for adults? Nope. We were more interested in the bullet shaped piece of cotton that we had delicately placed on a towel on the corner of the bath.
“Watch this!”, said Catherine.
She filled a large glass with water and threw it over the tampon. It expanded to about three times its width.
“God, that can’t be good for ya! How do you get it out afterwards if it goes that soggy?”, I asked.
Our peals of laughter must have been heard. Catherine’s Mum ascended the stairs, knocked on the door and asked why we had locked ourselves in the bathroom.
“We’re grand Mam. Irene got a thorn stuck in her hand so I’m taking it out with the tweezers”.
Cue more giggling.
Two young women, making their own ways in life
In my early twenties, I moved abroad and started to build a life overseas. Whilst I didn’t speak to Catherine every week or every month, I never worried that we were drifting apart. I knew that when I came home to visit that we would pick up where we had left off and the giggling would recommence. So, what was my friend doing whilst I was away?
Catherine’s fitness journey
My fitness journey began about eight years ago when I was fed up of smoking and eating junk most days of the week. My fiancé, Niall, encouraged me to begin slowly and with his help we began walking regularly. This gradually moved to light jogging. It was a slow process but with an improved diet and no cigarettes, I began to feel better and fitter day by day.
The next stage began when I started to include a walk every day for half hour on my lunch break. I was determined to live a healthier lifestyle. I gradually built up my fitness and this lead me to have the confidence to join a local gym. At the time, I would have laughed at you if you had told me I would go on to do two relay marathons, three half marathons and five full marathons .
Niall and I began to compete in local road races. We ran most weekends and this lead us to run as a relay team in the Cork marathon in 2010. I was hooked! The crowd were amazing and the sense of comradery was palpable. After that relay race I was confident enough to try to run faster. My fitness peaked in 2012. Training got more intense as I knew I was going to do two marathons in 2012, the Cork marathon in May and the Dublin marathon in October. Oh, I forgot to mention that I was also getting married in July! At the time people were telling me I was crazy trying to do this all in one year but I loved having a goal and anyone that knows me knows how stubborn I can be!
There was days when I was thinking “why am I doing this to my body?” I was training 6 days a week, up to 20 mile training runs at the weekend and I was also on a strict diet. I’m not the best chef in the world so I would have been lost without my mother and husband. I do a mean salad though! It was worth it in the end because I finished the Cork Marathon in June, got married in July and then completed the Dublin Marathon in October. All the hard work during the year had paid off and I was so proud that I achieved what I had set out to do. It was such an amazing feeling and to see my family and friends at the finish lines.
(Niall and Catherine)
Fitness and pregnancy
My biggest challenge was yet to come when we discovered that I was pregnant. It turned out that I was six weeks pregnant when I completed the Dublin marathon. Obviously, I didn’t realize at the time but, thank God, our baby was fine and we have beautiful little girl who can claim that she has already completed her first marathon!
During my pregnancy I never stopped training. We sought advice and the doctor was happy for me to keep spinning up to the due date. I got much encouragement but many dirty looks also. But Niall and I had researched the benefits of keeping fit and it all worked out. Our little girl hasn’t stopped moving since she came into our lives.
What happened after pregnancy?
After all had settled down and our daughter started to settle, I began to train again. I was becoming bored of road running and my joints were starting to creak so I called it a day. I set myself a new challenge. A twelve week fitness challenge was designed and it became a short term goal. I wanted to reduce my body fat, get leaner and step back from the extreme cardio training which I had become accustomed to. I decided to focus on weight training and diet.
This was a very difficult challenge for me. With a full-time job and an energetic toddler, it was difficult to find the time to train every day. However, I always managed it thanks to the great support I got from Niall.
A typical day during that 12 week program started with training and ended with training. The most challenging part of it all was my diet and sticking to it. Again, I must thank Niall because he helped me prepare my food some nights when I didn’t have the energy and he helped keep me on track. Luckily, as I was completing this challenge, Niall won a competition on Facebook with “Shaun Barry Photography” and he kindly gifted it to me. I now had an extra incentive to achieve my goal. It drove me on to complete the program.
(Catherine with Shaun Barry)
Coming towards the end of my program I kept in contact with Shaun Barry Photography and updated him on my progress. He wanted to produce professional looking photographs and was only willing to take photographs of dedicated models. At the end of the challenge I took part in my first photo-shoot with him. I absolutely loved it! After working so hard for those twelve weeks, it was such a lovely feeling to see the results in the images. It gave me a feeling I never experienced before and I knew I wanted more of that buzz.
How did you become a model?
After some weeks had passed, I still had this feeling that I needed to do something about it. I felt so passionate about it, so Niall suggested that I send the images into a modelling agency and, as he said, “what have you got to lose?”
It’s something I have always wanted to do but never had the confidence. Since having Niamh I’ve gained a new level of confidence. I want her to be proud of me and set an example to her – that you can achieve your dreams if you put your mind to it .
I sent my images into a Cork Agency called Lockdown Model and PR Agency and I haven’t look back since. It has opened up so many doors for me and it’s one of the best things I have done . Since signing up with the agency I have worked with RTÉ, Wave break Media, Vanilla Boutique in Fermoy, Crowley’s Opticians in Cork City, Sarah Keary – the Make Up Artist and so many more. I really love modelling and I would encourage anyone to follow your passions and try to live out your dreams. “Sure what have you got to lose?”
(On “The Today Show with Daithi and Maura)
My own thoughts
I am extremely proud of my friend, Catherine. Not only has she worked exceptionally hard to improve her levels of fitness and achieved her goal of becoming a model, she has done so in a healthy way. She has not sacrificed her health or her sense of self.
Her message of achievement is not about striving for the ultimate body beautiful. It is focussed on believing in yourself, believing that you are worth investing in. That if you have a dream or a goal that you can realistically achieve, you should go for it.
In achieving our goals, we need support along the way. None of us can make it through life unsupported. To help each other, we should inspire and empower. There is no room for jealousy or envy. It doesn’t help anyone to grow and to blossom in life.
There is far more power in positivity.
Well done, curly haired girl. Your friend, always, little black haired girl xxx
Childhood friends xxx