Women in Sport: Gymnast Nicole Mawhinney Talks To Us About University, Training And Rio
Dedicated to the core.
With the Northern European Championships in gymnastics taking place in the University of Limerick this weekend we caught up with top Irish gymnast Nicole Mawhinney, from Portavogie, Co. Down.
“I started gymnastics when I was seven, so I've been in the sport 12 years.
“Unfortunately I don't have any time for other sports due to my busy training timetable which is six days per week, four hours a day!” she explained.
“My love for gymnastics started when I was very young. I was always jumping and cartwheeling about!
“My parents had had enough of trying to watch the television with my legs flying around in their view, so they decided to send me to a local gymnastics club,” she laughed.
“Now, I train in Salto Gymnastics Centre of Excellence in Lisburn. My coaches are Kim Kensett Friar and Sun Jie, and they keep me busy.
“I am starting university next week to study Primary Education in Stranmillis University in Belfast in the hope of one day becoming a primary school teacher,” she continued.
“It’s been a busy few years though: I’ve represented Ireland in two World Championships – in Brussels in 2013 in Brussels and in Nanning, China last year.
“I also represented Northern Ireland in the 2014 Commonwealth Games where I was the only Northern Ireland gymnast to make the All-Around Individual Final.
“There have been challenges along the way though. My back injuries have definitely been challenging throughout my career but with careful management and physio work I have been able to keep them at bay."
“One of the biggest challenges throughout my career is how far I have to travel to training. I live an hour and a half away from my training centre.
“This means I have a three-hour round trip to make every day on top of my four hours training.
“The travelling was especially challenging when I was at school as I had to leave the house at 7:30am and didn't get home until 10pm.
“My homework was done either in the car during the journeys to and from training or on the bus on the way to school!” she reflected.
"For me though, training and competitions are really important. I have been involved in the sport for long enough to know dedication and commitment is key to wanting to be the best you can be.
“It takes a lot of organisation and careful use of my time to squeeze other things around my training but I make it work.
“Looking back, my proudest achievement would be making the Individual Final in the Commonwealth Games where I finished 17th competing against high level gymnasts from all around the Commonwealth."
"Another achievement for me was finishing in 5th place in the floor final in the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2013.
“The big highlight of my career so far would be getting to compete against the top American gymnasts at World Championships. Even just being able to watch them in the training halls before competition is unbelievable.
“Their skill level and skill execution is crazy, a lot can be learned from these gymnasts such as Simone Biles who is the World Champion.
“Another special experience would be competing in the first European Games in Baku. Being part of such a big event was amazing. From the busy athlete’s village to the roaring crowds in the gymnastics arena, it was such a great experience - not to mention getting to watch and train alongside the Russian Team in the training halls."
“On the other hand, my most difficult challenge to date was probably trying to complete my A-Level exams along with training and competition.
“My A level year was also the year of the Commonwealths Games. Throughout 2014 I had a lot of competitions which acted as trials for the Games.
“I had to obtain certain scores in the competitions to secure my place on the N.I Commonwealth Team. This meant all my revision notes came with me to every competition throughout the year and when I wasn't in the gym training or competing I was back at the hotel studying!
“It’s not just school though. A number of sacrifices have always had to be made.Things such a birthday parties, out with friends etc have to be missed for training and competition but, if you are determined to do well in sport, these sacrifices need to be made.
“I do think it's worth it. You might feel frustrated that you have to miss out on certain things but at the end of the day, not everyone can say they get to travel around the world competing.
“I think after your career is over, you will be able to look back and realise that it was worth missing those things because you are proud of what you've achieved."
“I’m lucky that I get a lot of support from my family which really helps. The support is especially important if training isn't going as planned or if I've become injured.
“My parents support at competitions also helps, they come and watch me at as many competitions as they can. My boyfriend Curtis Coulter is an elite swimmer who also represented Northern Ireland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
“With his training timetable being just as busy as mine, we understand each other and understand how important each other's goals are. We help push each other along and support one another so it works well.
“Always having a goal in mind is what helps me get through the tough times. My ultimate goal is Rio 2016.
“When things aren't going well some days I try to take the positives out of what I am doing, even if the positives are only small, it's still progression."
“Also, looking back on my achievements so far helps me push myself forward when things aren't going as planned.
“If younger girls were considering getting involved, I’d tell them to go for it. Gymnastics helps you as a person in so many ways.
“Not only is it fun and a great way to exercise but it also helps build confidence, gives you determination and teaches you how important commitment is if you want to excel in something.
“Looking ahead, I will be competing all four pieces of apparatus at the Northern Europeans in Limerick this weekend so that's vault, bars, beam and floor."
“After that, it’s the Northern Europeans in the final selection competition for World Championships in Glasgow where I would hope to compete on all four pieces of apparatus.
“In the next two years I am looking forward to training and giving it my best shot for Rio 2016. I am also looking forward to settling into my chosen career pathway in university along with developing my coaching career.
“People often say "I don't know how you do it all", but to be honest I don't think about it anymore.
“I'm just used to being constantly on the go 24/7 since I was little. I have no choice, if I want to do well. Good use of my time is key and hopefully, it will benefit me in the long run.”