Abbeylara's ‘Iron Lady’ back in the New Zealand limelight

Fiona Gallagher eyes first full Ironman race: Proud to be awarded the inaugural Tony O'Hagan Cup

Alan Walsh

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Alan Walsh

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alan.walsh@longfordleader.ie

Abbeylara’s Fiona Gallagher, the 2020 Asia Pacific female AquaBike amateur champion, was in the limelight once again recently after she raced a half Ironman in Mount Maunganui in the North Island of New Zealand.

Fiona came 2nd in her category and in addition to her race placing, she was awarded the inaugural Tony O'Hagan Cup, named in memory of the late Tony, who passed away suddenly in 2020. He was a big name in the triathlon community in New Zealand, having raced for years and he ran a successful coaching business.

“It was a huge honour for me and something I am immensely proud of,” remarked Fiona.

Daughter of Martin and the late Mary Gallagher, RIP (who passed away suddenly in 2011), Fiona is in New Zealand for just over three years and she is based in the South Island and is employed with Mactodd Lawyers in Queenstown.

Fiona’s success in becoming the 2020 Asia Pacific female AquaBike amateur champion earned her the right to represent New Zealand at the world ITU Aquabike Championships due to be held in the Netherlands last September, however, the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to that.

“I’ve qualified for that team again this year, but there has been no definite decision made thus far if the team will travel or not,” Fiona told the Leader.

The recent event that Fiona took part in at Mount Maunganui was a half Ironman distance event (her first), and it entailed a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and a 21.1km run which she got through in 4 hours and 39 minutes.

Fiona remarked, “I had a really awesome race and loved it up there. This was a bit of a warm-up race for my first full Ironman race which is in Taupo on March 6. (A 3.8km swim, 180km bike and a 42.2k run). I'm pretty nervous about the race, but having such a great race at the half distance has definitely given me a confidence boost and a good motivation boost to get through the last few weeks of training for it.”

Straying slightly away from sport, Fiona said the only major impact Covid-19 was having on her on life is the travel restrictions.

“As I'm not a New Zealand citizen, the borders are closed for me. I could leave to return home, but I wouldn't have the option to return. It's definitely hard being away with no idea when I will get to see my Dad and brother again, especially knowing that Ireland is struggling to cope with the virus. I worry about them all the time, even when they try their hardest to convince me otherwise!”

Fiona said life, in general, is back to normal in New Zealand. “We did a very strict six week lockdown back in March and thankfully it worked well. It was definitely hard some days to stay inside, but I think because everyone respected the long term goal for New Zealand, it didn't seem too bad at all.”

She continued, “I was lucky to have kept my job and it has been pretty busy ever since. Queenstown, where I live, is a tourist town and it highly relies on tourism in general. There has definitely been a hit as only Kiwis are allowed travel within the island, but it's also made big tourist operators less greedy and more thankful for keeping their heads above water. It's quite similar to a typical Irish village or small town where it's more of a community now.”

Fiona explained that everyone is looking out for each other a little bit better.

“I think deep down we all know it could have been a different story over here as well. I find it quite hard to understand the full impact of the pandemic at home and around the world because we are so sheltered from it. We don't have to wear masks, we don't have to social distance, nothing is off limits here. I sometimes feel a bit guilty saying that out loud.”

Fiona knows that she is fortunate to be still competing when much sporting action has taken a backseat.

She pointed out, “I always try to support events in New Zealand, and it's only when I go to them that I fully recognise how lucky we are. Thousands of people in a small area and no care in the world. We are hoping travel restrictions might ease, but it's not looking likely until 2022.”