Mallow-based girls Isabel and Claire O’Leary are a true ‘sister act’ of the future of Irish skiing.
At the tender age of 12 years, Isabel has just returned from the slopes at Andorra, and her first competition representing Ireland at the prestigious international underage competition, the Borrufa Cup.
As if that were not enough prestige for one household, Isabel’s elder sister Claire has also made her mark in the sport on the international stage… and is set to make an even greater impression over the next few years.
Although Isabel, due to her tender age, will have to put on hold her ambitions to compete at the Winter Youth Olympics until 2018, Claire (15) is on course to compete in the 2014 event.
A major step towards this goal for Claire comes within the next few weeks, as she has just been selected on the Irish team for the World Schools Championships, which will be held next month in the Aosta Valley, Italy.
The World Schools Ski Championship is a biennial competition organized by the International School Sports Federation (ISF). Claire will be among an entry of students from all over the world pitting their skills on the slopes in a bid to attain the world title.
To be chosen for such a high-profile international competition in itself is an impressive achievement for one so young, but it’s doubly so, given that Claire comes from a ‘non-snow’ country, unlike a large number of her international peers.
And for her sister Isabel, the future also looks bright, her recent expedition to Andorra resulting in so much more than ‘the honour of participation’. In fact, among a field of around 200 of the very elite of the world’s young skiing stars, Isabel finished in the top 20 of all four categories in which she competed; the slalom, giant slalom, Super G and combi. In the giant slalom alone, Isabel finished in the top 15.
The girls’ mum, Christine, is proud of her daughters’ achievements to date, and says the family has had huge support in their efforts to ensure that the youngsters fulfill their ambitious dreams.
“They’re both doing so brilliantly. Unfortunately, Isabel will be too young to compete in the next junior Winter Olympics, but she has her sights very much set on 2018, while Claire will be eligible for 2014, so we just has to ensure that she gets the points,” Christine said.
For Claire the long road to the 2014 event has only just begun. She made her International Ski Federation (FIS) debut in Switzerland last week, and attained the first of the FIS points necessary to compete at Olympic level.
“And while she’s been busy training and preparing for these events, she is also studying hard for her Junior Certificate in June, and we’re grateful that her school, St Angela’s College on St Patrick’s Hill, has been so supportive of her endeavours,” Christine said.
The Cork-born sisters were introduced to the sport while the family lived in Germany from 2000-2007. Claire was aged five, and Isabel first took to the slopes at the age of three years. They soon began to make their mark in competitions through their local ski club, before the family returned to their native Cork in 2007, first to Ballyvolane and then relocating to Churchtown, Mallow, in September 2008.
Isabel and Claire joined the race squad in the Ski Club of Ireland in Kilternan, Dublin, and for the past five years have been travelling to Dublin every weekend for training with their coach. The girls have also regularly trained with ski academies in France, Austria and Wales.
All of this comes at a price for the family. “In order to build up points to qualify for the major competitions, the girls need to enter as many international competitions as possible, especially Claire, as she works towards the Winter Olympics,” says Christine, who says the family is now seeking sponsorship for Claire’s bid to become the first Cork girl to represent Ireland at the Winter Olympics.
“The cost of the sport is quite unbelievable. It’s very costly indeed, but there are ways around this. The girls have never been to the big ski resorts, but they still get all the training that they need, and we have always looked for good quality second hand equipment,” Christine revealed.
The girls have had huge support from their friends, teachers and parent’s council at St Angela’s College, with bag-packing, cake sales and other fund-raising activities, and Christine is eternally grateful for that support.
“But what we really need now is a Cork company who will support a Cork girl all the way, and help her to achieve her dreams,” Christine said.
For further information on Claire and Isabel O’Leary, visit www.olearyskiracing.org.
Claire O’Leary (15) aims to compete in the next Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2014.
Isabel O’Leary (12) who was the only Cork representative on the Irish team for the recent international underage competition, the Borrufa Cup, in Andorra.