'If you believe in yourself then everything is possible'

By Stephen Leonard

CARADH O’Donovan will, this year, intensify her quest to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Previously living in Clondalkin before moving to Terenure, the 34-year-old is the highest seeded Irish karate athlete in the Olympic rankings despite having also had to contend with the huge challenges of Crohn’s Disease with which she was diagnosed in 2014.

Caradh ODonovan NoelBerginPhotos IKKUOpen

Photo: Noel Bergin Photos

Her rise in the sport is all the more remarkable given the fact that she only really took it up in 2017 having made the transition from kickboxing- a sport in which she excelled.

Indeed, she boasts an illustrious national and international kickboxing record that features World and European titles as well as a string of WAKO World Cup gold medals.

Speaking about her switch to karate, O’Donovan told The Echo: “I wanted to try something new, something not as stressful, so I took up karate about two years ago, but it was only around December 2017 that I decided I would really go for Olympic qualification.

“There are similarities between the two [karate and kickboxing] but the differences were bigger that I had expected.

“Karate is a lot more technical, but the contact is lighter and I definitely struggled making the change.

“With kickboxing I used to be pretty good and I’d go away to competitions expecting to do well.

“But the thing about changing sport like this is that you have to go back down to the bottom of the pile and your ego takes a bit of a hit. But at the same time I was happy with the challenge of something new.

“People say to me that ‘oh you’re almost 35’, but to be honest I’m feeling really good now.

“With Crohn’s Disease, it’s always there in the back of my mind that it can flare up badly at any time and that you might need surgery.

“It doesn’t mean that you won’t compete again, but it would keep you out for weeks or months and could ruin your chances of qualifying for the Olympics.

“But I’m managing it well and I’ve a good medical team around me so while I’m feeling good, I’m going to really go for it and give it my all,” she said.

In order to fulfil her dream of making the cut for Tokyo 2020, O’Donovan needs climb to the top four in the World in her 61kg weight division by April of next year.

And in pursuit of that goal she has set herself a jam-packed schedule for 2019 that starts with a trip to Denmark for an international next month.

This will be followed by the European Championships in Spain in March in which direct qualification to the European Games in Minsk in June will also be up for grabs.

The two-time National Karate champion is also hoping to contest other internationals in Austria, Turkey and Canada within the first half of the year in order to bolster her prospects of a rapid rise in the seedings.

 “If you believe in yourself then everything is possible,” insisted O’Donovan.

“All my experience in kickboxing has helped me adapt. Qualifying for a major competition in karate so quickly would never have happened had it not been my kickboxing experience.

“I do set myself unrealistic goals at times and I always want to be Number One.

“But I do feel I can get to the top 10 and win a medal at a major competition by the end of the year especially when looking at how far I’ve come already.

“This time last year I was outside the top 400 in the Olympic rankings and now I’m up to about 70th” said the former Tallaght Martial Arts competitor."

O’Donovan has proven a hugely inspirational sporting figure for many especially given all that she had to cope with both before and after she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2014.

Recalling the time of that diagnosis, O’Donovan said “It was nice to know that I wasn’t just imagining not feeling well and having all those illnesses”

“But on the other hand it was quite devastating to discover that I had Crohn’s Disease. I had never heard of it, but I soon realised there was no cure.

“I heard that it could be quite debilitating and I thought I might never get back training and competing.

“But I did and it has helped me accept things a lot better. I won’t push myself too hard and if I don’t win or perform, I’m not so hard on myself,” he added.

As Caradh receives no government funding, she needs help in raising funds that will go towards medical, nutrition, training and travel costs.

She is fundraising for her qualification journey to Tokyo 2020 and anyone wishing to help her in this endeavour can donate through www.gofundme.com/caradhs-olympic-dream

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