Born to run: Killeigh’s Olympian on her memorable career
PROFILE: PAULINE CURLEY
"I was born in Newtown, Killeigh. My mother is Bridget Gorry from Ballykeane, and my father is the late Billy Gorman. They had nine of us in the family: Bridget, Alice, Ann, William, Christina, Philip, myself, Veronica and Thomas.
Three of us were born at home, Christina, Philip and myself, and were delivered by Nurse Meehan. I had the pleasure of being the heaviest of us all, coming in at a whopping 9lbs.
All of us live close by, which is great for my mother. I lived in Newtown until I got married to Adrian in 1995. We have one son, Emmett, and I have been living, for 26 years now, just down the road in Annaharvey.
Growing up in Newtown, all of us got a good start on how to fend for ourselves with regards to cooking and cleaning, and how to be a worker and grafter. That stood to us growing up.
As youngsters, we would ramble across the fields to visit Ned and Lilly Cleary, where Lilly always had a treat or two for us. Returning home before it got dark, she would tell us to put sticks down our socks for fear a badger would be in waiting. Maybe that was the start of the running for me, as we would run like lightning, not stopping for dear life, until we made it to the back door.
Most of us went to Killeigh NS and I finished out my school days in the vocational school in Tullamore. At the Killeigh sports day in August, myself and my sister Veronica would walk to the village to take part in every race we could, and we would win nearly every one we entered. I think the others began to hope we wouldn’t turn up!
Once the sports were finished, we looked forward to going to McEnroe’s shop or Walshe’s shop to spend the few bob on sweets and walk home, proud as punch, with our trophies and medals.
Clodiagh Valley Athletics Club was then formed, with Mick Horan and Peter Dunne, and once again we joined, just for the social aspect, really, and a chance to meet up with the girls from school.
I continued to run for the vocational school under Tom Donoghue, our PE teacher, who won an All-Ireland hurling medal with Offaly in 1981. He was an inspiration to have as a coach but at that time I never took it very seriously.
I finished school but continued to run at home, with my sister Ann, up the Rath Hills. Ann at that time had joined Tullamore Harriers, so she was more involved. I went in one evening with her and that was the start of the journey really.
I was introduced to cross-country racing, and after some time, that’s where myself and Ann started competing at a higher level which resulted in both of us representing Ireland up in Mallusk, Belfast.
Over the next few years, I began to move up the ranks and represented Ireland in European and world competitions, travelling all over to compete in cross-country.
I ran in Turin and we came home with a bronze medal, and my teammates were Sonia O’Sullivan and Catriona McKiernan. I also competed in road relays in Japan. I guess that introduced me to road racing and marathon running. Mick Hayden was now on board with me and, after winning a few 10km races, the great Jerry Kiernan then advised me to run the marathon, which was the start of my marathon days.
Roll on the years to 2004, when I ran my first Dublin City Marathon and became national marathon champion, finishing in a time of 2.42. I retained it the following year and was pipped at the post in 2006. I hit the wall with three miles to go and all that awaited me was a wheelchair at the finishing line, as the power was completely drained from my legs.
My husband Adrian was there to lift me to the car. I remember Mick Hayden saying to me on the way home, ‘You will never put your body through that again.’ He forgot that it was a Gorman he was talking to, and we don’t give up easily!
Over the coming months, I regained my strength and headed to Rotterdam and finished a personal best by 3 minutes, at 2.39, and first in the over-35 category.
It was enough to secure me a place to represent Ireland in the Beijing Olympics. I had little time to prepare but off I headed and the ‘Beijing 10’ decided to come and support me too. Yep, lock stock and barrel, most of the family decided to take the long trip to Bejing. They included my mother, Adrian, Emmett, my sisters Ann, Breda, and Alice, my sister-in-laws Martina and Marie and Mick Hayden and his daughter Sharon. They were dotted along the route of the race supporting me – all dressed from head to toe in tricolours.
On the morning of the race, I stood in Tiananmen Square, amazed at how it was unfolding. Professional athletes warming up, and the time was going so quickly to what would be my biggest adventure. My aim was to finish the race and to live the dream.
I savoured every moment of the race, and seeing my family around the route kept me going. As I entered the stadium, the hair stood on my arms to hear the cheers of 90,000 people chanting and roaring. I had said that if I finished the race I would kneel down and kiss the ground like the Pope had done when he came to Ireland. And that’s just what I did.
When I rose from the track, I heard the familiar whistle and there was Adrian and Emmett, swinging the flag high in the air. It was pure magic. I finished in 63rd place, and I think I was the oldest competitor at 39 years old. I had fulfilled a dream that many a person would have given their right arm for and I’m so grateful to have represented my parish, town, county and country.
In recent times, I enjoy running as a hobby and I am still very much involved in groups mentoring people to achieve their goals and push themselves a little bit out of their comfort zone, which I love, and of course, the local nursing homes where I visit weekly to keep the patients active.
I’m proud to have been born and reared in Killeigh and I look forward to the establishment of a community centre for the local people, so we can build on the community spirit that I was so fortunate to be part of. I wish all the committee the very best."