WHEN Catherine Keohane was selected to represent Australia at the 2019 Oceania Masters Athletics Championships, she only told her immediate family.
She didn’t tell anybody else because she didn’t want to jinx it – and she had a good reason why.
In 2006 the Caheragh native was picked to run for Ireland in an elite duathlon race in Edinburgh. It was her first international cap, but it didn’t go to plan.
‘I tried racing with a double stress fracture in my foot,’ Catherine explains from her home in Rockhampton in Queensland.
‘I told a lot of people I made the Elite team in 2006, then I ended up with a DNF (Did Not Finish) and I didn't want that to happen again.
‘So, I only told my parents, brothers and partner that I was representing Australia.
‘Also, I didn't just want to wear the singlet for the craic, I actually wanted to win something in it and justify getting picked to represent Australia.’
Catherine, who turned 40 last year, took the Oceania masters’ championships in Mackay by storm. The West Cork athlete, in her adopted Australian colours, won two gold and two silver medals.
Competing in the 40-44 age group, she won gold in her favourite event, the 5000m, and gold in the 1500m, as well as silver in the 800m and 8km cross-country.
‘To medal in all my events was fantastic,’ she says.
‘It makes the 3.50am alarm going off six days a week and all the hard sessions that you do on your own when nobody is watching all worthwhile.
‘To stand on the top of the podium in the green and gold for Australia was amazing and having my partner (Kane Williams) and our little boy Jack (4) there with me was the best feeling.’
Ahead of the 2019 Oceania masters’ championships last September, which saw 15 Oceania Federation countries countries competing including Australia and New Zealand, Catherine spent five weeks at home in Caheragh, back to where her love for athletics started.
In 1984, on Tadhg MacCarthaigh’s Aughaville pitch, Catherine won her first medal in athletics. It was an U5 race that her mom entered her in at the Caheragh ICA Sports Day. She caught the athletics bug and hasn’t stopped running ever since.
‘I ran all through school and when I was in secondary school in Mercy Heights in Skibbereen, I played basketball with them and football with Ilen Rovers,’ she explains.
‘To be honest, I wasn't very good at them but we had fantastic teams and the training kept me fit for running. Some weekends I would have a basketball game and it would clash with football or cross-country and I would always pick cross-country.
‘Why wouldn't you want to run around a muddy field in the wind and rain on a Sunday morning! I always felt running was more rewarding because you get out of it what you put in and there's no team to carry you.’
In her younger days she ran for Bantry AC and then, later, Leevale AC. By the time Catherine moved to Australia in 2008, she has represented Ireland on the international stage. Initially the plan was to spend 12 months backpacking around Oz but, and it’s a familiar story, she fell in love with the country and is still there.
‘The lifestyle and weather were too good to leave,’ she says.
‘I stayed racing duathlons and half marathons. In 2017 I finally did my first marathon, two years after having my baby boy. I figured how hard could it be? I had done heaps of half marathons so thought it should be easy. I gave myself five weeks to train for it and it hurt, but I finished in second place and swore I’d never run one again!’
Her 2018 season was punctured by injury after injury, so she decided to change events and go back to where it all began with Bantry AC – track and field athletics.
‘I entered the Queensland State championships and came away with a win in the 5000m and a second and third place in the 1500m and 800m respectively. This qualified me to run for Australia in the Oceania masters’ championships (40-44), which are held every four years for the Oceania Federation countries.’
Catherine came home to West Cork for a five-week holiday last July, just two months out from the championships, and returned to where it had all started 35 years previously.
‘I got some great training running the hills of Kealanine and I even went for a few laps of Aughaville pitch,’ she explains.
‘I went back to Australia feeling fit, strong and ready for the championship.’
And Catherine excelled, winning medals in all four events she entered. They are the first international medals the Caheragh woman has won. Her exploits made headlines Down Under. Only a select few knew she was competing at the championships, what had happened in 2006 in Edinburgh made her determined not to jinx her international debut for Australia.
Catherine knows the moment in 2006 when she broke her foot. It was the day after she had finished sixth at that year’s national 10km road championships in Carlow after running a new personal best time of 38.38.
That performance had qualified her to represent Ireland, for the first time, in Edinburgh in the duathlon.
‘I knew I was in great shape but the following day I went for a recovery run and felt a sharp pain in my right foot,’ she recalls.
‘The duathlon was only three weeks away so I spent the next few weeks downplaying how much pain I was actually in. I went to Edinburgh and took a few Nurofen before the race and tried to block out the pain.
‘The race was a 10km run, 40km bike and 5km run. I ran the first 10km in 37 minutes and 58 seconds, and halfway through the bike I was in serious pain so I had to drop out.
‘The next day I went for an X-ray and it showed I had not one, but two stress fractures in my foot and I was in a cast for the next six weeks.’
The following year Catherine returned to the same course in Edinburgh for the European Championships, but as an age-group athlete, and finished 12th. She also finished 18th at the World Championships in North Carolina.
And now, in Australian colours, the West Cork woman is still performing on the international stage – and she’s not finished yet.
‘I hope to go to Norfolk Island in 2021 to retain my titles. That’s a long way off but that’s the goal at the moment and to stay injury free.’
Her home city of Rockhampton in Queensland is famous for producing tennis legend Rod Laver, Olympic cycling medallist Anne Meares and hockey star Jamie Dwyer – and now it’s also home to a West Cork woman who is medalling at international level.
‘Representing two countries at two different sports is a pretty awesome accomplishment and I'll always be grateful for my mom putting me in that race in Aughaville back in 1984,’ Catherine adds.