Catching Up With Sonia O’Sullivan

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Sonia O’Sullivan might have given up competitive running but it will always be part of her life. She chats about being healthy, being a mum and coming home

Picture the scene; you’ve taken up jogging and are modestly chugging your way through your morning run when you’re overtaken by another runner. You give them a wave on the way past only to get the shock of your life.

“People are surprised if you go running past them or wave when they’re running,” says Olympic medal winner and long distance champion Sonia O’Sullivan.

We bet they are. She’s still one of our most recognisable sporting legends who made the country proud with her athletic successes and her ability to run and run and then run some more. Sitting opposite Sonia on a sunny Dublin afternoon it’s hard to believe that it’s 13 years since she won silver at the Olympics. She looks tanned, relaxed and relatively unchanged from her heyday.

The tan is easily explained, Sonia now lives in Australia with her family and where her two daughters attend school. The chilled demeanour might come from the fact that she’s retired from competitive running.

“I like to run but it’s not the most important thing.” She adds, “You’re definitely more relaxed as you don’t have to produce anything from it.”

Certainly she seems at ease with her retirement maybe because it took a while for it to happen.

“It wasn’t one day I woke up and couldn’t do it anymore. It was a gradual thing, because I kept doing it for quite a long time afterwards. You just realise, realistically it’s not going to work.”

That’s not to say it was easy for Sonia.

“There were periods and things didn’t go wrong and every race was brilliant, the mid 90s was the time I couldn’t put a step wrong and it felt really easy. The difficult thing is when it doesn’t feel so easy and you never think it’s going to end.”

But end it did.

“You just gradually phase yourself away from it and fi ll your time with different stuff.”

For Sonia ‘different stuff’ has seen her embark on a number of projects, many of which take her back to Ireland like her Olympic role last year as Chef de Mission to the Irish team. Returning to the aul sod is something the star says she tries to do as much as possible.

“I don’t think I could live in Australia if I wasn’t coming back here as much as I do. I just feel a much greater connection being in Ireland than being in Australia. As soon as you get off the plane or off the boat, all of a sudden everything makes sense. You understand everything. You can listen to the radio, read the paper and talk to the man in the street and just, kind of, connect in some kind of way that’s hard to describe. It’s as if you’re home in a way.”

It was on one such journey home that she fell in love with Glenilen yoghurts, a product for which she is an ambassador and the reason why we’re sitting in the same room together. It has launched a new range of four pack yoghurts which Sonia is delighted to say she loves. She even admits that when she sets foot on Irish soil they’re one of the fi rst thing she buys. It’s clear from the way she talks about food that nutrition and eating well are still important to Sonia.

“I carried over a fair bit of [training] to my own lifestyle in health and fitness and sharing ideas with people.”

But she is a lady who admits to liking her grub.

“One time, it was gas, I was in an Olympic training camp in Co Down and was in touch with Nevin Maguire and knew he had a restaurant in the north, somewhere in Cavan. I thought, ‘it can’t be that far away’ but it was three hours across the country. So I drove over there for a dinner.”

The mix of both sides to her personality means her ethos of healthy eating is a distinctly non-faddy one.

“A lot of people have aversions to different kinds of food and say, ‘that’s not good for you’ whereas I always think if it tastes good and it’s got lots of natural ingredients in it… surely that’s a better thing.”

sonia o'sullivan

As a mother she is conscious of mixing this healthy attitude to eating with plenty of exercise for her own kids who she admits are quite sporty. Encouraging our children is something she says she thinks we could be better at promoting in Ireland.

“I suppose, if you’re not forced into it by your school and encouraged to go into it you’ve got to decide to do it. Most parents say, ‘well if they don’t want to do it then we can’t make them.’ I think you have to encourage kids and go and do stuff with them.”

Our time is over so I ask my last question. Could she be tempted to come home and run on our rainy roads more often?

“I would think about coming back here, I wouldn’t say I’m settled in Australia,” she says with a big smile. Best start keeping an eye out on the morning run as Sonia O’Sullivan could be overtaking you some time soon.

Glenilen Farm has launched its new four pack of yoghurt, out now priced at €2.59