My name is Orla Comerford, I’m 22 years old, I’m from Dublin and I’m an Irish international T13 Sprinter. I competed at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio and have x2 European bronze medals.
I’ve always been super active and into sports. From a young age I realised I was only ever any good at other sports because I was fast so at the age of 6 I joined my athletics club RahenyShamrocks and I’ve been a member ever since! As a kid I kept up multiple sports including basketball, gymnastics, tennis and more but around the age of 15/16 I decided in order to achieve what I wanted to in athletics I would need to put all of my time and focus there, and that’s what I did!
I’ve always loved athletics, it was my favourite sport growing up and it’s always brought me such enjoyment. I’m extremely competitive (& probably not the best team player!) so the individual and competitive nature of athletics has always appealed to me. I think it’s also taught me a lot about commitment, hard work and dedication, which have been valuable skills to learn and apply to other aspects of my life.
As I’ve mentioned above, from a young age I realised I was only ever good at any other sport because I was fast. So at the age of 6 I asked me Mum if there was such thing as a sport where you just… ran! And that’s when she introduced me to athletics, she signed me up with Raheny Shamrocks Athletics Club and I’ve been there ever since! I was very eager to compete but couldn’t do so until I was 8. I remember the first couple of years I competed I just loved being there and being part of it. Then when I started to win, that’s when my real love for it set in. There is no better feeling than loving what you do and doing well at it. Obviously sport has its and downs, but it’s the memories of how the high moment felt that keep you motivated through the lows.
While I’d been training for years and competing nationally, my first experience of a big international competition was the Paralympic Games as I only classified for Paralympic athletics in 2016 and then the pressure was on to qualify for Rio. So I suppose I did things a bit backwards. I’d never been to a European or World Championships before that so I was thrown very much into the deep end. But I think it was an invaluable experience which really stood to me when I went on to compete in Worlds and Europeans in the years following it and I hope it’s an experience that will stand to me if I qualify for Tokyo next year. Going into a competition of that size and importance is a whole other ball game, so having been there before I think it can only make things easier, help to keep you calm and focused. For now the big goal remains Tokyo Games despite the postponement. Training continues to be the main focus of my life and requires a lot of discipline especially when dealing with injury. Its not uncommon to have days where you feel low and lack motivation, but it’s discipline that keeps you on track. It takes so much work behind the scenes, every single day to make it to those big championships, but it’s almost always worth it. I’ve been very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel the world with athletics because of this and I hope that continues for years to come. I’ve made so many amazing connection and met some of my best friends though athletics, which I will be forever grateful for.
I think ongoing injury has to be the biggest challenge I’ve faced. I’ve been pretty unlucky over the past number of years with it and it’s been a very long road. But unfortunately injury is just part and parcel of sport and I’m not the first athlete to experience it and I won’t be the last! I like to think the experience will stand to me and will hopefully make me a better athlete in the future.
And of course my visual impairment presents challenges for me in sport, but they’re challenges that are worth working around. My coaching team are great at working with me to find solutions to make it work. Some of the most obvious challenges would be seeing the markings for the lanes on the track. For example, a red track with white lines makes for better contrast, a blue track with white lines can be harder to see!
There’s a place for everyone in sport, no matter your experience, ability, age, gender, etc… Sport it about getting out, getting active and enjoying it. It’s the best gift you can give yourself and there’s something out there for everyone. I really love the 20×20 ‘No Proving Just Moving’ campaign as it’s a great initiative that encourage people to start or get back into physical activity for all the above reasons. It helps get the message out there that we can all get active, alone or together, not only for our physical health but for our mental health too.