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Conor Kelly - My Journey Back to Triathlon

 My Triathlon Journey.

My Triathlon obsession started when I was very young.  I was on holidays in Boston with my family in the late 1980’s.  My cousin was into the sport and I remember we sat for hours one day and watched Ironman Kona, which turned out to be the famous Ironwar race between Mark Allen and Dave Scott.  From that day until 2005, Triathlon was always in the back of my mind, but because the sport was not as mainstream as it is today, I never got a chance to race or even spectate at a race. 

I must admit that Triathlon took a back seat to football and other team sports until 2005 when Triathlone took place for the first time and brought Triathlon to our doorstep.  All the Ironman memories came flooding back. I was so new to the sport and did not even know that Triathlons had different length races etc.  I was a spectator in 2005 but raced in 2006.  I raced with no wetsuit, a €150 racer and football shorts.  When I look back now, I laugh at how innocent I was.  The swim took me 38 mins (for anyone that remembers, the time was not actually that bad as we swam against a serious Shannon current from Flynn’s funeral home up to the boat club).  After that race I was totally hooked on the sport. I competed in numerous Sprint and Olympic races from 2006 to 2008. 

In 2008 after the Triathlone race me and Mick Macken were having a few drinks and we discussed setting up Athlone Triathlon Club and on 08/08/2008 we had our first meeting in The Shamrock Lodge and the club has been in existence ever since.


My Ironman Ambitions.

Soon, my Ironman ambitions began to re-surface. I was on a bike ride with 2 former club members, Marc Butler and Adrian Dolan, and I was positioned on the back of a triangle with the two lads in front. I overheard them discussing signing up for Ironman Austria. My response – “well if you’re doing it, so am I”.  Mick Macken and Dave McCourt also signed up and we were off to Austria in 2009.

Ironman Austria was probably the highlight of my Triathlon achievements and I enjoyed everything about that trip, the race, the hotel, the weather, and the people. We had such a great bond as a team and had our family and friends alongside us.  I have completed 3 Ironman’s and Austria was the only one I can say everything went right for me.  It was like a holiday with friends and a race thrown in.  I then went on to race Ironman Switzerland in 2010 and Challenge Roth in 2012.


How I fell out of love with Triathlon. 

All through my life since I was 17 and playing football I suffered with severe pain in my lower back and at the tender age of 19 had my first L4 spinal operation.  I got some good relief for a couple of years but around the time of Switzerland in 2010 I knew that my back was getting worse. I eventually underwent my 2nd operation in 2014 which involved inserting an inter spinal spacer between my vertebrae.  I must admit that during this time, I did fall out of love with not only Triathlon, but sport in general and life took over.  It was hard as I did have such a heavy involvement in the sport through my former business and race organisation.  Most people see Triathlon as a hobby.  It was my life for 10 years. 

In 2018 we also lost a great friend and former club member, Grainne O Neill.  Another hugely difficult time.  Grainne was a huge inspiration to me and one of my training partners and best friends.  She was an amazing woman with a huge “never say die attitude” and completed many Triathlons and Ironman events. I think of Grainne every time I am down in a training session and I always remind myself of what she would say ‘just keep moving and you will get there’’. 

 My sciatica takes over my life.

One April morning in 2019, I woke up and I could not get out of bed with severe pain – I had sciatica pain down my left leg.  It was such a debilitating injury.  I could not sit, walk, stand, sleep or play with my kids - I was in constant pain.  I visited many physios, specialised doctors, and surgeons but everyone was reluctant to operate on my back for a 3rd time.  I was at the stage where needing to give up my job was a possibility as I sat at a desk for 7 hours a day.

Over a period of 8 months, I had 17 physio sessions, 3 x CT guided spinal injections, 2 x epidurals and eventually after a lot of rehab I was on the mend.  At this point, I was extremely low mentally as the pain was constant and I could not sleep.  It was not like having a normal pain where you take a tablet, and the pain goes.  This was constant.  24 hours, seven days a week.  After many specialists advised there was little that could be done for me, my outlook for a pain free life going forward was not an optimistic one.

 The only type of exercise I could do was swimming, and I joined the ARSC “Swim around Ireland Challenge” where I was managing to swim 8000- 10000m per week.  Looking back now I think this benefited me massively.  Along with rehab and physio sessions my back started feeling better and stronger and soon enough, my pain seemed to be gone.  Whatever was trapping my nerve moved, and whatever it was good riddance!


Getting back to Triathlon. 

On October 16th, 2020, I finally gave myself a full bill of health to start back training.

Slowly over the last 12 months I have been thinking of competing in a few Triathlons again and my first step was to re-join the club after a long break away - I suppose you could say I am the prodigal son!  If I am being honest, I was a little bit nervous going back into the fitness community as it has been such a long time.  I should never have worried at all.  After joining the club and the warm welcome back I received, and I realised all my fears were just in my own head.  I was amazed by how strong the club has stayed.  The club really is for every level of Athlete and the community spirit and mutual motivation within the WhatsApp group and weekly training sessions is invaluable.  The encouragement and support we receive is inspiring.  I personally think Triathlon brings out the best in people as everybody suffers the same pain, some just go faster, and that sense of achievement and comradery is only something you experience in endurance sports. That in turn creates strong bonds between club mates. 

In my few years away, I have put on weight and have a long journey ahead of me to get back to racing Triathlon, but with the encouragement and motivation from club members and great training tips from Mick, it is a journey I look forward to. 

My ultimate goal is another Ironman in the next 4-5 years, and I will work hard to try and achieve this goal.


I am delighted to be back and I can’t wait to hopefully be racing soon.