Distance runner, and DCU Accounting and Finance graduate, Aoife O’Cuill is currently completing a Masters in Accounting with DCU Business School. In this piece, she discusses how DCU Sports and Wellbeing has enabled her to combine high performance sport with academic success.
What drew you to DCU as a student athlete?
I was always a sporty child, doing both camogie and athletics, but it wasn’t until my later years in secondary school that I began to think seriously about my running. At that time, I began to realise I had potential to progress further, and when I saw other friends from my athletics club and school progressing to compete in international school competitions, I knew that I wanted to achieve this for myself too.
While I was late to realise that I wanted to pursue running at a higher level, I had always known that I wanted to study to become an accountant like my parents. When it came to college applications, I knew what I wanted to study, but I was worried about how I could combine running at a high level with these studies.
“I knew that DCU had a strong reputation for running and producing high quality athletes, and it had a good Accounting and Finance course so it seemed to be the place to go. I spoke with the Head of Athletics who explained about the training at DCU and the supports for student athletes. After that, DCU was really the only college that I looked at.”
What are the main challenges for a student athlete trying to combine high performance sport with university life?
The main challenges for me have always been time and tiredness. As a student athlete, you’re trying to do the same work as everyone on your course, but then you are also trying to do the same or even more training as all other athletes in Ireland too.
My course had a very heavy workload, particularly in final year, but on top of that I also had to fit in 15 hours of training every week that included eight 90 minute runs and two gym sessions. My day could begin with a 45-minute run, followed by a day of lectures and another 45-minute run in the evening. Sometimes it felt like I did nothing but training and study. Some people might think I didn’t have much of a college social life, but for me, training with other athletes is also my social outlet and what I love to do.
How did DCU Sports and Wellbeing help you with these challenges?
I have progressed so much as an athlete and in my studies thanks to the support of DCU Sports and Wellbeing. Through DCU, for the first time ever, I had access to a coach who had worked with international medal-winning athletes. Having coaching at this level made a big difference to my performance, as did training together with my distance running group. I find it really motivating to train with this group, to see the results others are achieving and this inspires me that my time is coming too as well. Through DCU, I also have a strength and conditioning coach and access to the pool and gym, which is essential to help me stay injury free.
Paul Byrne, the Head of Athletics at DCU is also always available to give really good advice on balancing my training with my studies. I have learned that simple things like having a good routine, and planning and preparing meals can make a big difference. The sports scholarship helps too with some of my running costs like attending training camps or flying to races in Europe, especially with hotels being so expensive now.
You have just completed your degree in Accounting and Finance, what is next for your career and sporting ambitions?
I’m delighted to be doing a Masters in Accounting at DCU this year. My course was only three years, when most others are four, so I think it’s a great opportunity to do four years in college like other students, but to come out with a Masters level qualification at the end. I think another year in college will also help me to achieve some of my running goals.
Since joining DCU, I successfully qualified for the U23 European Track and Field Championships and the European Cross Country Championships. My first aim was to qualify and to have a good run, as I was quite young for the competition in my first year. My next aim is to qualify again next year and to hopefully achieve a top eight finish. In national competitions, I won the 1,500 metres race at the U23 Irish Athletics Championships last year, and came second in the 8,000 metres Irish Cross Country Championships. My ambition is to hopefully medal in the senior Irish cross country championships next year too.