HealthJournalism or Jealousy? - My Review of the Irish Times 'Tipping Point' column on Amateur Athletes in Ironman Triathlon - Fiona O'Donnell | Health | Nutrition | Performance

September 1, 2021by Fiona O'Donnell0
“Time-consuming pursuit isn’t so much about exercise as an existential cry for help.” Brian O’Connor

Standing Up For Amateur Athletes

Humans are teetering on the edge of a precipice. Over the centuries, the changes have been gradual, but in the words of Sam Cooke, A change is gonna come. We have made a decision that certain behaviours should not and will not be tolerated. Homophobia, racism, sexism and ageism are many behaviours that fall under the title of ‘rankism’. Whether you are a stall holder on the Coal Quay, a hospital cleaner, a movie mogul or a top level journalist at the Irish Times, rankism is on the way out and will no longer be tolerated.

Rankism is similar to predation. Predators target those individuals they see as weak, the ones that they think won’t answer back. This is, for the most part, in order to make themselves feel superior. One’s need to feel superior could be reflective of their lack of self worth. When we see these behaviours out of the blue, it tends to shock. But for some reason, when its a column written by a disgruntled journo, it appears to be ‘ok’. Some even find it funny. I personally find it obtuse.

Opinion Piece or Attack in the Irish Times?

I have just read and linked to an article in the Irish Times sport section by racing journalist, Brian O’Connor entitled ‘ Tipping pointHow bored do you have to be to do an Ironman’. If you’re feeling feisty, its probably best not to click on that link. Rather than applaud the enormous effort that goes into training for and partaking in a sporting event, the above quoted journalist decided to berate and mock the amateur athletes that take part in Ironman.

Maybe the writer can think of far better things to do with his time. Perhaps the idea of swimming in our beautiful seas, cycling around the stunning Wicklow hills and running along the seafront of Dun Laoghaire is an utter drag…..entertainment factor ZERO. Perhaps a day at Cheltenham watching good horses being ridden by jockeys just playing the game sounds more attractive. So be it. I am not one to criticise how anyone spends their time.

Cycling country roads in Mallorca
Group Ride with Strangers – Absolutely not bored! 
“I watched the Ironman..there was no choice….Road closures meant effective house arrest for four hours. “

Well, I don’t know about you, but what I wouldn’t do to have 4 hours at home, uninterrupted. I would have enjoyed a leisurely morning reading a good book, drinking good coffee. You, Brian, could have ironed a few shirts, gotten the dinner on? What a productive day you could have had.  Oh, hang on….you could also have just put on a pair of runners and walked out your front door. That “health maintaining casual jog around the block” would have been the perfect move to save you from enslavement by the wicked Ironmen. I have also heard tell that it helps improve mood. (ahem!)

Physical Appearance

“..Without exception, they looked shattered…sweaty mass of disconsulate humanity….some bodies looked like they were being held together by plasters…..happier looking cyclists retreated from mons.”

Ouch! I thought people were past the ‘everyone should look perfect all the time’ thing. My mistake. I forgot that in this imperfect world, athletes (amateur or professional) are supposed to be perfect. (Actually, we are, but that is a story for another day!).  If I do ever manage to develop the fitness to do an Ironman, I’ll be sure to have a mirror at every aid station and endeavour to provide a wet wipe to all sweaty middle aged men on the run course (as I pass them of course)!

Affluent Athletes

There are multiple references in this piece regarding affluence and prosperity. I guess if I spent all my time on a sport that makes its wealth from winning and losing money through ill informed guesses, I would wonder about a triathletes spending too. I mean, come on! Imagine paying for clothes that you know will increase your comfort, buying a watch that will give you nerd level feedback on your performance. Or even spending more money on a bike than you would on 2 months livery for a flat racer – ridiculous indeed! Sorry about that, we will all try harder in future to spend our money as you see fit.

“..all types of ‘ping machines’…grim resolve to parade their affluence…extreme sports events like triathlon are..a reflection of prosperity…expensive bling but being able to afford the time and energy to prepare.”

My Time

Now, about the time and energy to prepare bit – This does make me laugh. I suppose it is quite difficult to imagine having free time when your weekends and evenings are taken up at racing meets. Thats your thing, right? What on earth would you do with your time if the Irish racing industry collapsed? I must warn you, you might need to go for a jog or something to allay the boredom and provide relief from whatever existential crisis you would surely end up going through.

“..hard not to consider how better directed all white collar angst could be if pointed towards a goal that is kind, constructive or creative.”

I think that the carers, artists, writers, doctors, teachers and many other professionals who take part in triathlon and indeed Ironman, would have some valuable feedback for you. Although, unlike your ‘breath of fresh air’ piece (please note the heavy sarcasm), their feedback may not be so kind.

running in mallorca
Dad of 3, works 40-60 hrs a week – still manages to train

Before we move off the topic of time, I must point you towards a little error that I feel you surely missed. Most middle aged men can do more than one thing at a time, never mind their magical ability to do one thing after another in predictable sequence. This concept may be difficult to grasp for some, but I’m sure with the right help and just a little positivity, most could achieve it. In fact, lots of great parents manage to hold down a day job whilst also enjoying a hobby or two (of if you want to be pedantic, three).

“…fripperies like scraping a living or raising families simply can’t fit in. “
Swimming with my son
Sometimes, the family even join in!

Health Implications of Endurance Exercise

Ooooh, I love this bit. Mainly because you said the R word. “Research shows…..”.  Lets take a closer look at this, shall we? Research shows that there is a greater percentage of cardiac deaths amongst triathletes and endurance runners than there are in the general population. That sounds reasonable. In fact, it sounds hugely likely. But hey, surely in the millions of individuals with undiagnosed cardiac issues, only those who exert themselves in an attempt at improving health and lifestyle will be the ones who discover their underlying condition. The term ‘Causation versus Correlation’ comes to mind. Maybe give yourself a day off the racing to look that up.

4mile Road Race
Running whilst on dialysis – how can one cope to do 2 things in the same day?????

I have one or two other corrections to make in terms of the factual statements in this piece. First, those who don’t exercise and who sit all day in front of a computer without moving shoulder girdle (like a swimmer), joints below the hip (like a cyclist) and their core (like a runner) is likely to end up needing a physio for back pain. So too is the individual who stands all day at the races and then sits for the rest of the day at a computer. I hope you have taken up yoga! Also, there is actually no research to show that the incidence of joint replacement is greater in endurance athletes. So lets put those two to bed now.

The Reference to Men

All you talk about in this piece is men. What did they ever do to you? Especially the , white collar, angst driven egocentric 47 year old men! “….mostly middle aged men sweating out their neuroses….on average, the victims were 47 yrs old – 85% male….same demographic as in Dublin (70.3)…narcissism of bored middle aged men……..since there is a caveman hard-drive among many men…the extent of the male ego.”

One fifth of all finishers were female. Does it surprise you that you missed that fact or was it done intentionally. Do you hold that much disdain for middle aged men that they were all you saw? Are you that obsessed with the achievements of this demographic? Surely there were a few 20 odd year olds thrown in there too. How did they fare?

Triathletes - Spot the Ironman - No mention of these in the Irish Times
Triathletes – Spot the Ironman

We could look back through your previous writings for some kind of explanation, but truthfully, so much hate hurts my eyes. When did this become entertainment? When did this kind of writing become something that people want to read. I thought this was all dealt with during talks of impeaching Trump. I thought the book was already closed on this behaviour. Perhaps its just the last chapter.

Post swim in Mallorca
We all have families, work hard AND make time for past times we love.

Mental Health

Repeated reference to terms such as narcissism, anxiety, psychosisregaining control (who said it was lost???) in this piece indicate an assumption that all of the triathletes involved in the sport are suffering with their mental health. I think you may have that one wrong. Perhaps the only reason they are not suffering with their mental health is that they choose to put their energy into actually doing the sport. This sounds far better than sitting behind a gate, feeling trapped, all the while putting every ounce of energy into whisking up a hate fuelled rant about people having fun, achieving their dreams and getting fit.

Being Kind

I read somewhere once that the act of giving creates a much greater feeling of good than the receiving. Just be careful when you google that one, and make sure the kids aren’t watching the screen over your shoulder. The saying in question was actually – The happiest people in life are the givers, not the getters. Maybe being cruel, unkind and using your jealousy of others to fuel your writing does make you feel better. But, it takes a huge amount of energy to be this angsty (new word in the urban dictionary – cos I’m cool like that)  perpetually. I’d throw out an aul compliment occasionally, it might lift your mood!

I choose to be kind where I can. It doesn’t always work out that way, but this is draft 6 of the response to your piece so I have come a long way! Despite disliking your opinions, I do like your writing. It draws the reader along even though they might want to chew the paper its written on and throw it back up. (That was nearly a compliment….I tried, okay!)

Where Do We Go From Here

I would like to challenge you to two things Brian! The first is to write something nice about ….about anything!  I suppose being kind doesn’t sell quite so many papers and I do realise that the gazillion responses you are likely to receive on your piece may have been the goal all along, but just have a go at it.

The second is to try.  Have you ever sat on the beach with a group of your peers at 9 O’clock on a summers evening, drinking hot chocolate, feeling cold but warm at the same time and basking in the glow of post swim endorphins. Do you remember jumping waves as a child and having crisp sandwiches whilst wrapped in a towel, your Mum rubbing furiously at your back to turn you from blue back to pink? Thats what I feel after a swim with friends. That special moment that you all share together. Maybe it sounds daft, but thats what I look forward to every summer.

Having fun after a swim
Always remember to laugh 

Have you ever spun down a hill at 57kph (I’m a bit of a brake puller) and been ready to burst because you wanted to scream at the feeling of exhilaration? Or have you laughed and chatted with a friend about everything from the inane to your very deepest feelings while running through beautiful woods or along sea fronts. How can you knock it if you have never tried it. How can you hate something you have never experienced? Or were you that kid in the playground that already knew about everything before it happened like ‘Andy’ from Little Britain.

My Take On Triathlon

Finally, my motivation to live my life to its fullest is buoyed by the people I have met through sports. Horseriding and triathlon have offered me a wonderful opportunity to live a positive and exciting life. When I had to start dialysis, when I was too tired to cook dinner because my kidneys were failing, when I gave up a job I loved, when I went on the transplant list – through all these times, I had sports. Even when I couldn’t take part, I could be there and spend time with the people I love. That doesn’t sound egocentric or a sign of a deeper psychosis. It sounds like a want and a need to live my life instead of spend it behind the gates watching others live theirs.

Bright cycling gear
We clearly look worse than those retreating from the Mons 

I think you should come and try it Brian. The invitation is there – out in the open for you to say ‘Yes’. Perhaps the sense of achievement might wipe away those feelings of not being enough. And, maybe, one of these days, happiness will find its way into your writing.

Fiona O'Donnell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Visit us on social networks:

Visit us on social networks:

Copyright by Fiona O’Donell. All rights reserved.

Copyright by Fiona O’Donell. All rights reserved.