Paralympian Mary Fitzgearld is currently ranked 4th in the world in the F40 Shot Putt and although she only made her paralympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, Mary is proving to be a major competitor in the event.
This summer she took Gold at the 2022 Paris Grand Prix and hit an incredible new PB of 8.23m.
"To be honest I wasn't really expecting that PB at that time. One thing I'm continuously working on is achieving big distances at big championships when they most matter when you're competing against the best girls in the world and I was happy to get that at the Paris Grand Prix and take home the gold especially when you're competing against girls higher up in the world rankings."
"It was a challenging start to the year, I had Covid around March time and that naturally impacted training and recovery and I also had a small minor injury so of course they are minor hiccups and they break your routine and stuff like that and so that and a combination of things I definitely wasn't expecting it. I learnt a lot about myself at that competition in terms of how I prepared, how I optimised my recovery how I did my own thing and what made me happy and what suited me"
The 23 year old has just graduated from UCC as an Occupational Therapist where she was on a Quercus Scholarship for her academic and sporting achievements. She now makes the transition to full-time athlete.
On juggling her studies and elite sport, Mary said:
"Yeah it's a lot to take on, I suppose you're taking on a full time degree and I wanted to commit to that fully. In first year I joined the paralympic team so it all really came together at once, two fabulous opportunities that I waited for for so long"
"You're living in an apartment block with rowers, rugby players, golfers and hurlers and of course you come from so many different sports but you all really have the same goal, you want to optimise your performance so that was really good to be around like-minded people and I didn't realise how beneficial that would be"
The Kilkenny native came 6th in her debut at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo and also holds a bronze medal from the 2021 European Championships. She is now looking ahead to the World Championships next summer before looking towards the Paris Paralympic games in 2024.
"It's really exciting. The past season wasn't a championship year so it was a good time to explore things like newer more advanced techniques, perhaps things in the gym, and getting things like recovery what works, what doesn't work."
"Worlds are next Summer in Paris so that's a nice warm up for the Paralympics in 2024. They take place in July in Stade Sébastien Charléty which will be the same location as where I competed in the Paris Grand Prix. So happy to return to a place where I have good memories."
Fitzgearld took up para athletics in 2010 through an induction day with the Irish Wheelchair Association when she was 11 and immediately fell in love with it. Her main focus now is the F40 Shot Putt event.
"There is so much involved in shot putt. There's the strength element, there's the drive element across the circle, there's coordination"
Representing Ireland means everything to the 23 year old."It's an unforgettable feeling really, and something that's hard to put into words and justify it. So many work towards that goal of representing Ireland and many people don't, I spose you do have to remind yourself of it some days. Sometimes you're getting so caught up in the small things and stuff like that, but when you're representing your country at the highest possible level, you're representing that tricolour and you're wearing it with pride, it's the most amazing feeling"
The paralympian speaks passionately about the importance of young girls sticking with sport. She advises girls "Try out everything, there's no reason not to try out everything,"
"I feel the real foundation of what will make it last for you is enjoyment and passion and what makes you happy. What makes you happy to go to the training session, what makes you happy to drive that extra bit or what motivates you to get up in the morning. And sure, you might not find it immediately, but don't give up and don't be afraid to reach out, ask questions, make contacts with the right people, don't be afraid to beg your parents to drive you to that training session, because you won't regret it and sport has opened so many doors for me"
"Find your passion, find what you love and stick with it"
We spoke to Mary at the launch of the Paralympics Ireland Partnership with Hays Recruitment. The paralympian expressed the significance of such a partnership.
“Paralympians have so much to offer employers, with their different perspectives and experiences being a real asset for any organisation. Diversity shouldn’t simply be seen as a buzzword, but as something that can bring real value. To help bring onboard former Para athletes, employers should do what they can to ensure that workplaces, and their recruitment processes, are made accessible for everybody. I’m delighted that Hays has chosen to partner with Paralympics Ireland and look forward to working with them. With the right networking, knowledge and guidance, Para athletes can make a positive difference in whatever field they choose to work in.”