first_img Orla Walsh. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILEIn February of this year, those four finished tenth in the Track Cycling World Championships in Poland.“That was huge”, she recalls. “There were coaches coming up to our coach saying, ‘Jeez, we didn’t realise Ireland had even qualified.”The ambition now is to chase qualification points for the Olympics. Given the Irish team’s relative lack of competition, they are 15th in the world rankings and need to be among the top eight to make it to Tokyo.That means chasing podiums for the rest of the year, which Walsh admits is “a tall task” but one that will nonetheless be relentlessly pursued.“I knew in the back of my mind I couldn’t keep doing this to my head and my body”, she says when comparing lives old and new.I guess it is like any other bad habit or addiction, you know what you’re doing probably isn’t right but you can’t really see a way of stopping it. If I’m being honest, the way out for me was becoming addicted to something else, which is exercising and the bike. People ask me what was my ‘A-ha’ moment. I just switched from one behaviour to another behaviour.“When people look at me as some kind of inspo, I say you just become obsessed with something else, anyone can do it!“I’ve 100% immersed myself in the whole athlete life.“My whole life is training, recovering and racing. I don’t have much of a social life, and in terms of it being a balanced life, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.“But in comparison to what it was like a few years ago – get through the work week, get through college and then go out at the weekend – it’s an entirely different life.”The42 toss out the R-word.“People do ask me If I regret it and I don’t think so.“It is an unfortunate thing about Irish culture, most people will say in their early-20s they overdid it with the drink.“Again, as with my full immersion in the athlete life I did the same thing with the party life. That was who I was.“I look back and tell myself, ‘You had fun, you maybe didn’t make the best choices but that was what you wanted to do at the time’. So I can’t look back with regret as  I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t done everything I had done.”There are, at the time of writing, 154,000 people following the person she has become; tracking her progress on the bike and encouraging their own from the excavated and juxtaposed #TransformationTuesday posts.“To be honest, that’s one of the reasons I keep telling this story. In some contexts, I’d like to be seen as Orla the Athlete rather than Orla Who Used To Drink All The Time.“But I post them as I can see the responses I’m getting from them. It’s not just that I enjoy getting these responses, but it’s that I’m making a difference to people’s lives.I have been meaning to go through the messages and have a little archive them. People would send me messages to say, ‘I’ve been inspired by your story to start cycling’ or ‘I didn’t think I could do racing but you’ve encouraged me to start.’“Another woman thought she was too old to start time trials, having always wanted to do them, but she took them up having thought, ‘Fuck it, if she can do it why can’t I do it?’“People put up all these barriers – their age, or that they might not be good enough, or that they’re not the healthy, ideal athlete. I’m certainly not the perfect athlete.“It’s nice to get these messages and that’s the reason I keep posting; I get comments to say it’s an inspiration, even if it’s just someone getting out on their bike that day.”The likes, the ever-wheeling followers digit, the messages, the support, and the feedback…is this an addiction too?“Eh…good question! Is it addictive…I don’t think that it’s addictive.“No. I’m doing this consciously because I’m getting this feedback and if I wasn’t getting that feedback I’d stop. I’d stop if people weren’t interested.”She considers validation versus motivation.The validation as everyone calls it is addictive in a way – there have been studies to show that it is addictive – and Instagram happened at the same time as I started the racing and I was documenting my progress. Orla Walsh. “That was a fun project for me alongside training, and it kept me motivated as I realised, ‘I’m getting an audience here.’“There was an extra little bit of motivation.”Has she thought about the day when the wheels stop turning?“Ehm…it’s crossed my mind. I’ve not delved into that too much. I’ll never go back to the lifestyle I had before. What’s in store for me in the future is maybe to do with sport in some context. I would love to work in sport as I could continue to train.“It’s opened up my mind to new things and being happier in myself. With drinking, you’re numbing the brain and the body whereas with cycling it is a lot more relaxing.“Going out is blurring things out; cycling is more meditative.“I’m more comfortable in my own skin than when I was out partying.”So instead of racing too far into the future, we consider what – and who – has been left behind.“I don’t hang around with the same people, except for my close friends I grew up with. I’ve known them since I was eight and they’ve seen all the Stages of Orla. ‘This is just another thing Orla is doing…this is fine!’“But I’ve no contact with the others, I don’t know what they would think of my lifestyle now.”Nowadays, Walsh laughs that she has no social life, and admits she’s still working on the whole work/life balance thing.“I generally just watch Netflix and listen to music, just really boring stuff!”She watched the Battle of Winterfell – “stressful!” – just before taking The42’s Friday morning call, and to give an idea as to how utterly immersed she is in cycling at the moment, she managed to dodge all spoilers.But while fortune’s wheel clicks toward its final turn on Game of Thrones, hers aren’t going to stop spinning any time soon.  14 Comments ‘The way out for me was becoming addicted to something else, which is the bike’ Orla Walsh speaks to The42 about swapping 20 cigarettes a day for a shot at Olympic qualification in the space of three years. 48,852 Views May 5th 2019, 11:26 AM Share19 Tweet Email4 By Gavin Cooney Image: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE Short URL Orla Walsh is a cyclist now and she competes for Ireland in the Velodrome and is aiming for the Olympics in 2020.So, how did it all change?“There are more times than I can count when I woke up and think, ‘What am I doing?’ When I look back I can see how I was trapped in that bad cycle”, she tells The42.She’s known some very different cycles since. This was a reinvention that began from necessity. She enrolled in a Masters in DIT in 2015, and needing to commute to college from home without a car she took a lend of a second-hand road bike from her father.Initially, he escorted her through the gauntlet that is Dublin City Centre for what was only her second proper cycle in years. The first was the Tour de Picnic, a cycle to Electric Picnic which swaps a free ticket for money raised toward a good cause.“That was an 80km cycle. I’d obviously done no training and I was on some old hacker bike that my Mam owned”, Walsh remembers with laughter.“It took me all day. I was by myself pretty much. We left at nine and I didn’t get there until dinner time.“80 kilometres should not take eight hours, but it did. I got there, had four beers, then slept the whole night and missed the concerts.”So she returned to the saddle to get to work in 2015, and from there…well, try and keep up.She joined a club called Orwell Wheelers with whom she started doing road races.Not that it started well. She frequently fell away from pelotons and dropped out of her first few races until determination dragged her through one in 2016, finishing second-last and after the women’s podium had been populated and broken down.She then spent the winter training with men from the club, wending through 100 kilometres of the Wicklow hills in the dark and the rain of after-work evening. She hired a coach and made exhaustive use of an indoor bike her Dad gifted her for Christmas.By 2017 she was beginning to clamber road race podiums, and then noticed an ad for Cycling Ireland’s Talent Transfer programme.They were recruiting athletes from different backgrounds with one ultimate goal in mind: it was titled ‘Olympics 2020?’She applied and made it through the first round. Those left pedalling were given a training programme and a return invite six weeks later.She ignored said programme and stuck to her own coaching regime. It meant her improvement wasn’t at the level of those she was competing against, but it was enough to make it down to the final eight. They then took part in gruelling training camps in Dublin and Majorca, after which she made the final four. Sunday 5 May 2019, 1:00 PM FACEBOOK, WHERE WE once went to style the person we hoped to be, is where Orla Walsh sees the person she was and no longer wants to be.It’s there she finds pictures of her college days, packed with the just-about-manageable excesses known to many of us; emblems of a life filled with fun and its vague collateral.She went out almost every weekend and smoked 20 cigarettes on the days she didn’t smoke some more.Some of these photos have now migrated to Instagram…where they exist in a very different form. Orla Walsh. Image: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE Tweet thisShare on FacebookEmail this articlelast_img