SHE has traded Rathcoffey for the bright lights of New York. Claire Mooney, having sat her Leaving Cert last year, is enjoying life at St John’s University in Queens, New York. She is currently on an athletics scholarship and is certainly making waves across the Atlantic already, writes Ruth O’Brien.
Claire’s sporting journey began at the Community Games, where she competed for Clane and Rathcoffey and it then took her to Naas Athletic Club. She won Irish national junior titles at 400m in 2009 and 2010 and with assistance from Ciaran Cuneen, a former St John’s University student and Caragh native, she was scouted.
“I was running in the national senior indoors in 2010 and I came second. Ciaran Cuneen saw me running and he contacted St John’s. They were interested so they contacted me and started the process of getting me a scholarship.
“I went on a visit during my Leaving Cert year and I liked it so I thought I might as well try it for a year and at this stage I think I’ll keep going. I do get home sick sometimes but you just have to move on from it. My parents have come over a few times so that makes it easier,” admitted the talented 19-year-old.
Majoring in biology, Claire is the oldest of three. She attended St Wolstan’s Community School in Celbridge, while she completed her Leaving Cert year in the Institute of Education in Dublin along with her sister Niamh.
“I used to compete at the Community Games for Clane and Rathcoffey and to be honest I didn’t really like it that much but I kept going back. Then I joined Naas AC when I was twelve and then I started to like it! Liz Hogan was my coach there and she was great,” Claire told the Leinster Leader this week.
Since moving stateside Claire has been afforded not only a top notch education but superb facilities for training, facilities that quite simply are not available on home turf. She is coached by Puerto Rican native and former Olympian Yvonne Harrison at St John’s, while Tommy Farrell, an 800m Olympic bronze medalist in 1968, also lends a hand.
“The university has produced some Olympians and some very good athletes over the years. One was Tommy Farrell who came third in the Olympics in 1968 and he comes back now and helps with training. He was with us for the indoor season and travelled to the regionals with us. My coach, Yvonne Harrison, was also an Olympian in the 400m hurdles and she’s amazing,” she explained.
A 40 minute train journey will take Claire from her university base in to the metropolis of Manhattan but with intensive study, training regimes and trip to compete the Rathcoffey native doesn’t get very much down time.
“The training is scheduled round you classes so for example on a Monday training is from 12.30pm to 3.30pm, including weight room training, and I have two classes in the morning and two classes after training, so it’s a pretty full on day. On Tuesdays training is at 7am, so it’s very early but it’s good to get it out of the way,” she explained.
Claire is competing in the 500m event indoors, while outdoors she will concentrate on the 400m. The St John’s 400m relay team, of which Claire is a member, is also impressing this season. Earlier this month Claire was part of the St John’s relay team that finished first in the recent St John’s ‘Monday Meeting’, while she also finished top of the pile in the Metropolitan Indoor Track and Field Championships in New York.
“I am doing the 500m indoors, which is something I hadn’t done before and I did very well in that. I will do 400m outdoors and they keep running me at the shorter distances but that’s just for speed work. We also have a really good relay team, four by 400m, and we hope to get to the Eastern NCAA Regionals, so that would be the main goal this year.
“The standards are amazing. Just running against brilliant athletes every week is incredible. The times that some of the girls are running are fantastic so just to run in the same races as them is unbelievable.
“This year we’ve been to California, we went for a week for spring break, we’ve been to South Carolina and Boston. I came second in ECAC, which is a competition for all the eastern states in the 500m and fifth in the Big East, which is in the top five conferences in the NCA,” remarked the biology student.
With the season hotting up Claire is preparing for the Big East, a collegiate athletics conference, the Metropolitan Championships, the Eastern College Athletic Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regionals. The events, along with her studies, are all that’s on her mind for now.
“My main goal at the moment is just to keep running with St John’s and taking the opportunity to run against some of the best people, up coming stars in great. Whether I stay in the sport after I finish college I don’t know but I’d like to. It would be great to run in the Olympics but at the moment I need to just concentrate on college,” she commented.
Claire Mooney is a very talented athlete of that there is little doubt but she’s also a young lady with her head firmly screwed on. She’s going places in the athletics world and academically and remember it all started in Rathcoffey and with the good old Community Games.