Badass, bold and downright ballsy! We put the call out for you, our readers, to let us know about the most amazing women and their achievements from the Irish outdoor and adventure scene in 2022! And you didn’t let us down. Below you’ll find a list of nominees with boggling achievements to their name. One winner will be picked from this list by our panel of judges and will be named Sport Ireland Woman of the Year 2022 at our event on 1 Feb 2023 in the Sugar Club.

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If you’re a nominee, consider yourself cordially invited to our annual awards ceremony on the evening of Wednesday 1 February 2023 in the Sugar Club, Dublin. We are thrilled skinny to announce that our fab sponsors are on board to help us celebrate all that is great and good about the Irish adventure scene, so it’s guaranteed to be a good party. Our hugely generous title sponsor is Sport Ireland. And our other supporting sponsors are #2MinuteBeachClean, #2MinuteStreetClean, CraghoppersLeave No Trace, Hiiker, Salewa and Collen Construction.

For everyone else, a limited number of tickets are on sale here. Subscribe to our email newsletter on our homepage to hear more about the Outsider Awards 2022.

We were bowled over by both the quality and quantity of the stories you sent us. So sit down, make yourself comfortable and read the spine-tingling and inspirational stories of these extraordinary people who are now officially on the long list of nominees for the #OutsiderAwards.

Caitriona Jennings, ultra-runner

Olympian and Donegal native Caitriona Jennings (42) added two more incredible achievements to her ever-growing list in 2022. In early January, Caitriona decided that the 100km World Championship would be her main focus for the year and if you’ve ever met an Olympian before, you know that they’re always wanting more.

Caitriona nabbed the bronze medal in the IAU 100km World Championships and also added a gold in the 50km European Championships – both fuelled by her unwavering desire to win.

Juggling her busy life in Hong Kong and time-consuming training schedule, Caitriona makes sure that she does her three key training sessions a week at a minimum. These cover, speed, long runs, and tempo.

A huge challenge off the road arose in the lead-up to the 100km race when a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity opened up and Caitriona decided to grab it with both hands. This cloud did have a silver lining though, as her reduced training schedule allowed her to stay injury free for the entire year.

“In hindsight, it may have helped me to detach from the ultimate goal as I was so focused on work. I had a tendency in the past to overtrain. I certainly couldn’t do that for this race and it helped me be in top condition.”

Moving at a fierce pace, Caitriona completed her 100km race in 7.07.16 and set a new national record for the distance and nabbed the 50 miles record too. No easy feat! But regardless of how tough or gruelling the race got, she never lost focus and strategically worked her way through the field and set herself up to medal.

“Knowing that I was running the last 20km in podium position gave me an incredible lift and I was determined to cross the line without relinquishing that spot.”

Unsurprisingly, training for these races leaves little time for other events – something Caitriona wants to rectify in 2023. Billed as ‘The Ultimate Human Race’, the Comrades Marathon is a 90km ultramarathon starting in Durban, South Africa, that she has set as her main goal for the year, and we all know how that went last year.

 

Eve McMahon, sailor

Dublin native Eve McMahon (18) completed the incredible feat of becoming the first person ever, male or female, to take home the Triple Crown in youth sailing in 2022. These wins brought her tally to six world championship medals in total. Not too bad for someone who’s just finished her Leaving Cert.

Speaking of her success, Eve says, “I still can’t believe it. It’s such a surreal experience. I put pressure on myself to finish those U-19 events successfully and I’m so glad to come home with the wins.”

Born into a sailing household, Eve followed in her brother’s footsteps by joining in on sailing summer courses and following the pathway through Irish Sailing. She has noticed more and more females getting involved in the sport since she first started and hopes to encourage more to get out on the water.

“I’d like to be the most successful Irish female ILCA 6 sailor ever and be a figurehead for women in sport, especially sailing,” she says.

Finding it tough to balance training with her studies, Eve needed to multitask to make the most out of her time. Cycling plays a big part in the training schedule of a sailor and that became the main focus during her studies as she was forced to mainly train on land to keep fit for events.

Since moving up to the U-21 category and spending time in boats with experienced seniors, Eve has massively improved her mental resilience as there’s no room for error. “I got two yellow flags at an event recently and that put huge pressure on me to perform in the next race, but that type of situation can make you into a better sailor.”

The future looks bright for Eve who’s competing in all the Senior ILCA 6 events in 2023 with the main event being the Senior World Championships in The Hague. And there’s college on top of all this too. But Eve is keeping her feet firmly on the ground.

“You have to believe in yourself, you’ll get hit by some challenges along the way, but don’t shy away. If you believe in yourself, you’ll get there,” she states. 

Elaine Burrows Dillane, open-water swimmer

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Elaine Burrows Dillane (51) achieved her swimming goal of completing the Original Triple Crown in 2022. The feat required the Tralee woman to swim the English Channel, North Channel, and finally, the Bristol Channel, which she ticked off her list in 2022 in an impressive 12 hours and 52 minutes.

“During the 50 years between 1971 and 2021, there were only three swimmers who had completed the Original Triple Crown and they all happened to be men. And only one of them was Irish, so I don’t think I need to explain too much about where my inspiration came from!” she says.

As a self-titled domestic engineer, Elaine’s training schedule works around her life as a mother. Now that her two kids have moved out, she has plenty of time during the winter months to maintain her fitness. Things get busy when the kids come home from college during the summer and her training schedule increases to eight-hour training swims on top of gym sessions and home life as well.

She recounts, “I’m tired when I come home and then you’re a mom and a wife again and have to get your everyday things done also and want to spend quality time with them, but in fairness everyone rows in and helps. They have always been extremely supportive. I suppose after six years we’re in a routine now!”

Looking back on her achievement, Elaine knows that she’s come a long way since her first marathon swim in The English Channel. “The three swims each had their own challenges. You always have to be prepared for the unexpected. I was totally delving into the unknown. Everything was new to me.”

Trying to dodge lion’s mane jellyfish and battling with cold water, Elaine found The North Channel to be extremely tough, but she made it safely across thanks to her determination and her team pushing her on.

Then came her toughest mental challenge, The Bristol Channel. For that swim, the tide unexpectedly turned two hours early and fierce winds and currents picked up at a point when she had already been in the water for nine hours. At one stage Elaine needed moral support from her crew to not lose ground.

She recalls, “I was only crawling forward, every inch was hard won. I had to stay strong. I wasn’t going to let it get the better of me, I was going to be the first Irish woman to do The Bristol Channel and the first Irish woman to accomplish the Original Triple Crown.”

Driven on by glances up to the Irish flag and Kerry flag in her support boat, Elaine achieved her goal and recognises that she couldn’t have done it without her coach Kevin, her crew and the infinite support from her family and friends.

Laura O’Driscoll, mountain runner

Inspired by her adventure-loving Dad, Laura O’Driscoll (40) has found a second home in the mountains and took home two prestigious mountain running wins in 2022. Setting her sights on the ARI Solo National Adventure Race Series and Cape Wrath Ultra in Scotland, not only did Laura win both of these, but she did it while nursing a particularly nasty ankle injury.

Laura’s year was destined to be a tough one after day three of The Cape Wrath Ultra. What started off as a hugely positive first few days of the eight-day, 400km foot race with 11,200m cumulative ascent where she was comfortably leading the field, things soon turned bad. In extremely poor conditions, Laura rolled her ankle leaving her in excruciating pain for the remaining five days. By the end, she had torn her medial ankle ligament, but through her grit and determination, she managed to hold onto the podium.

She states, “I think I still have a bit of PTSD from that race!”

It’s not all pain and suffering though as Laura lives for the outdoors. “I absolutely love adventure racing. It enables me to experience parts of the world, doing the activities I enjoy, in the company of some of the most inspiring and enthusiastic kick-ass individuals out there,” she says.

Having the Cooley Mountains in her back garden, Laura spends her downtime biking, swimming, kayaking, and hiking. “For me, it’s almost like breathing, and the motivation comes from the love of just being out there and feeling alive.”

Grateful for a job that helps with her training, Laura is able to work on her fitness while leading yoga classes, and her work as an architect has a flexible schedule. Ever the busy person, Laura also coaches running and adventure racing, giving herself plenty of opportunities to train for her own events.

“I love the buzz at the events. Seeing the variety of people out there, all shapes and sizes, all ages, challenging yet enjoying themselves, these people motivate me too.”

Once her ankle fully heals, Laura will be back in the mountains with Transgrancanaria and Transalpine already on her schedule for 2023, as well as a Mountain Leader course with her husband Johnny.

Nina McGowan, freediver

Reaching new heights, and depths, in 2022, freediver Nina McGowan (50) made national headlines for her record-breaking achievements by diving to 43m in two minutes and 10 seconds. Making this remarkable feat even more impressive is the fact that she only took up the sport in 2019.

Hailing from Balbriggan in Count Dublin ,and growing up on a harbour and with a scuba diving dad, Nina was destined for a life in the water. After a visit to Dahab in Egypt, a Mecca for free divers, she was hooked.

As a self-proclaimed ‘bio-hacker’, Nina has a huge interest in finding ways to make her body a nice place to live in. Regularly practising yoga and meditation, she finds freediving as a way to release herself into a fully immersive environment.

“The quietness, the abstraction of the undersea experience was always something I yearned for,” she recounts. 

With her past experience as a scuba diver, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Nina became very good at freediving, but what was surprising was how quickly she became great. When she broke the national record on her very first competitive dive, her coach Raphael Vilimiu encouraged her to enter the Master’s category at the The World Underwater Federation (CMAS) world championships.

Nina recalls, “Getting a world record would eclipse my 50th birthday, and be the ultimate gift to myself. Becoming world champion along with getting the record was such a surprise.”

It hasn’t all been easy going though. A burst eardrum, a blackout, and a demanding schedule that sees her fly to Tenerife for training camps make freediving both physically and financially draining.

She says, “I’m still figuring out how to live my land life around my water life, or is it vice-versa?”

But Nina is motivated by keeping her body strong and the feeling of freedom when in the water, even during cold, dark mornings when she’s cycling to the pool.

By her own admission, Nina hadn’t made plans for after the world record attempt, but now she has her sights set on getting into the 50m+ range with no fins and CMAS World Championships in Indoor Pool disciplines in May 2023 in Kuwait.

“I’d love to go back to the World Championships as part of the Irish team and podium again… It doesn’t sound like I’m retiring anytime soon, does it?”

Dr Karen Weekes, rower

Not many people spend 80 days at sea rowing across the mighty Atlantic Ocean on their own without thinking about giving up, but for Dr Karen Weekes (55) never took her eye off the prize. Making the 3,000-mile journey from The Canaries to Barbados, she battled enormous waves that threatened to capsize her in the middle of nowhere. Despite all the threats and dangers, Karen pulled her oars until she crossed the ocean and became the first Irish woman to row solo across the Atlantic.

As an ultra-endurance athlete who was born in Dublin but who now calls Kinvara in Galway home, Karen has travelled the world completing incredible feats along the way. She’s circumnavigated Ireland in her kayak, cycled from Bodo in Norway to Galway, and trekked the highest mountains in the world. According to Karen, rowing across the Atlantic was “the next level up for athletes like me”. Inspiring people as she goes, the SHECANDO campaign is a new adventure for Karen as she encourages women and girls to push themselves out of their comfort zone.

All of Karen’s amazing achievements come down to proper planning and adopting the right mental approach, which isn’t unexpected as she is also a psychologist. Through her research, she’s become an expert at developing coping strategies, which undoubtedly help her reach her goals. Even with the proper planning and correct mental approach, rowing across the Atlantic is no easy thing to do,

“Being the solo decision maker in an intense situation like that for 80 days straight was pretty challenging,” she recounts.

Karen didn’t set out to break any records, but in hindsight is happy that she’s done so as her family has yet another thing to be proud of. Not one to sit around for too long, she’s already planning her next adventure, but she’s keeping that a secret for now.

Ellen Vitting, mountain runner

It takes a certain type of person to enter an event that makes you run 55km of trail over mountains, climbing over 4,000m in height. But not only does Kerry’s Ellen Vitting (37) enter these races, she enters them to win. In 2022, Ellen won the 55km long Seven Sisters Skyline in Donegal and the 200km long Kerry Way Ultra. She was also one of the competitors who made it the the end of RTE’s Ultimate Hell Week.

“I love different challenges and once I see something that interests and excites me I can’t get it out of my head. I am determined to give it a go,” she says.

“Honestly I love sports and the outdoors, especially the sea and mountains. I always feel better after being out and that knowledge is all the motivation I need. Motivation is rarely the issue, it’s the shortage of time to do everything I want that’s the issue,” she adds.

Furthermore, Ellen manages to balance this with being a mother to two children with some creative problem solving.

“I have also been known to run around the football pitch as my son trains or take kids with me to do short sprints where they can join in,” she recounts.

And when the kids aren’t around, Ellen is running out the door as soon as there’s a gap in her schedule and she combines these ad hoc sessions with longer weekend runs.

On her way to winning the Seven Sisters Skyline, Kerry Way Ultra, and finishing Ultimate Hell Week, there have been difficult moments and even moments of doubt. Even with all her wealth of experience, Ellen still finds it difficult to hit the nutritional nail on the head. Combining this with racing through the night and battling sleep deprivation, her mood can plummet. But she manages to keep herself going,

She states, “I remind myself of how lucky I am that I can do these events and also that I have never looked back and regretted any of these events so I know it’s worth it to keep going.”

After a very busy and successful 2022, Ellen is taking her time planning her schedule for the year, but there’s a very good chance that we’ll see her on the podium again.

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By Matthew McConnell

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