Retired international track and field star, David Gillick, was a surprise guest at St. Cecilia’s College recently where he put Key Stage 3 students through their paces with a few short tests.
Along with nine others in Ireland, the Derry school was selected for the ‘Young Breed Completion Programme’, which is designed to promote fitness and identify different talents within Irish youth.
And with 400m titles at both the European Indoor Championships and the Irish National Outdoor Championship, as well as an Irish 200m title, the Dubliner is perfectly positioned to provide the students with a first hand insight into the life of a top level athlete.
In 2007, he set both the Irish Indoor and Outdoor record which qualified him for the Olympic Games while in 2009, he set another new 400m national record with a time of 44.77 seconds.
Having now officially retired, Gillick has been travelling the country to encourage the stars of the future.
“We’re rolling this out over 10 schools which we started in September, and this is the most Northerly school we’ve come to,” he explained, “There’s a good tradition of athletics here and we want to continue to encourage athletics at grass roots level.
There’s a good tradition of athletics here in Derry and we want to continue to encourage athletics at grass roots levelDavid Gillick
“We want to promote athletics as a sport but also with kids who play other sports. There’s the possibility of finding some talent as well and hopefully we’re pushing the stars of the future.”
The programme has been particularly successful at encouraging students who wouldn’t have primarily considered athletics. Gillick praised St. Cecilia’s for their willingness to nourish the talent of their Key Stage 3 students.
“We’ve found a lot of kids that would be playing other sports and aren’t members of any running clubs but they’re excelling at the tests. We work with Athletics Ireland and their Regional Development Officers to ensure there are good links with the schools and the clubs. The schools play a vital role in sports and making kids aware of their talent.”
The former athlete believes the addition of athletic tests adds to the enjoyment of the event, and the healthy competition creates conversation between the class.
“A lot of kids think of athletics as running laps or cross-country whereas we try to build a bit of fun into it. We have games to warm-up and even jumping over hurdles, which they love.
“The great thing about the tests is that we can instantly give them a number, and that makes them competitive. They’re asking other people in the class what they got, and they’re learning more about athletics.”
Many of the students were keen to hear about Gillick’s past titles and how he achieved such success.
“I’d like to think my past experience goes down well. Obviously, teachers play a vital role in it and they’re a huge cornerstone of sport for all ages.
“I think being able to show off a few medals can show the kids that you’re just like them. I used to look at famous Irish athletes and think they were amazing, and that I couldn’t be like that. Success is just down to dedication, hard work and having a clear goal.”
While encouraging athletics is a main objective of the programme, Gillick explained that improving the children’s confidence is another rewarding benefit.
“It’s great when you come in and talk to kids and say that you were exactly the same age as them when you started. It’s about giving kids the opportunity to grow themselves and improve their self-esteem.
“What we’ve found throughout this is that sometimes it’s not just the kid who’s the best in the class at sports, sometimes we can find a quiet kid who succeeds at the tests and walks out 10 feet tall.”
“It’s amazing to see and something which is very important to me. All other sports are coming to schools and we need to promote ours. I’m just grateful that I can have the opportunity to give back, to help the sport grow, and to move forward.”
Looking forward, Gillick wants to continue the high level of success the programme has had in its first year. With sponsorship from ‘New Balance’, he believes that it can have a lasting effect on the development of Irish athletics.
“It’s great to get the initiative off the ground and into schools. The feedback we’ve got is fantastic but the next challenge is thinking about how we can sustain this.
“We want to build on this and keep the momentum going. I’d love to go to more schools and promote athletics as a wider sport, not just for track and field. We can come in and inspire them for an hour here but we want to be able to sustain it and make sure that the talent stays in the sport.”