News and Events

UCC Law Student Wins Gold at U23 European Rowing Champions

15 Sep 2020

We interview Lydia Heaphy, Final Year BCL student, about her recent triumph at the U23 European Rowing Champions in Germany and how she balances her sports career with her legal studies at UCC.

Lydia, huge congratulations on your recent win! You have made everyone at the School of Law so proud. Can you tell us a little bit about the U23 rowing European championships - your win, and your journey to the championship?

I started rowing when I was about 11 years old in Skibbereen rowing club. I am now a UCC Rower and Quercus Scholar and I am a full time athlete on the Irish rowing team. I have been part of both U23 and Senior Squad and up until now my best result was finishing 11th at Senior Worlds last year (2019) in the lightweight single.

Last weekend I became U23 European Champion by winning gold at the U23 Europeans in the lightweight pair with Cliodhna Nolan from NUIG. It was a dream come true and definitely a day I will never forget, standing in the middle of the podium hearing the national anthem, it was better than I could ever have imagined. It was even more special as we didn’t expect to win, it just showed how our hard work and dedication has paid off.

A lot of the crews were very young and I was actually the oldest at the regatta which in a way gave us a bit of an advantage as we had a lot more experience racing than the other crews. We knew we had a good engine and really focused on pulling away from the field in the second half of the race. We executed our race plan pretty much how we planned it and thankfully it worked. Cliodhna made the calls in the boat and we went up a gear to move through the Germans into the lead just after 1000m and we then held this to line. We didn’t realise until this week that we actually set a new U23 world record! It really just signed off my last year as U23 and for my first ever major medal to be gold was just something I could never have imagined. I am now currently on a training camp in Italy preparing to race the Senior Europeans in the lightweight single on the 9th of October.

How have you found balancing your law degree with your rowing career? What have been the key challenges?

It has definitely been challenging having such a demanding degree and such a demanding sport. I figured out in first year that to be able to continue to do both, I really needed to be efficient with my time and made myself a very strict schedule to make sure I got everything done.

I had to balance a lot of things and especially around exam time rowing took a small bit of backfoot by just training once a day for study week and the days that I had exams, but I would make up for this once I was finished exams. I would also always do my assignments straight away rather than leaving them till the week of the deadline because this would amount to much stress and pressure to try and get them done in a panic and I would end up having to miss training sessions to get them finished. It's all about time-keeping and managing and planning your day.

While I was doing well for my first and second year of college, I was very conscious that final year is a very important year as that is where we get our final graduation grade and I really want to get a 1:1 in order to be able to get a good job once I graduate. I went to the Dean at the start of last year and expressed my concerns to him and kindly he and the Law School were very accommodating and allowed me to split my final year over two years. This allowed me to put the time into trying to go to the Olympics but also apply myself fully to my final year and get the best grade I can.

Has studying law helped your sports career in any way? If so, how?

It definitely has. It has been a very welcome distraction!

Being a full-time athlete can be very intense and it is so nice to have something else in my life to think about and be part of. I really relied on having my law degree during the lockdown and Covid. The Olympics have been postponed by a year due to coronavirus, and for a lot of the athletes this was really disappointing and delayed a lot of athletes' lives and their plans. But thankfully I had my exams to focus on, which gave me another purpose and goal to work towards. I love studying law and really enjoy every lecture and module I have taken. And I love UCC - I have made great lifelong friends at UCC and I am really going to miss it once I graduate.

What advice would you give to any inspiring students wishing to pursue a law degree and a sports career simultaneously? 

I would definitely say to not give up on either. They actually really complement each other, you just have to be really smart with your time management. If you are struggling just talk to your lecturers - they are all so understanding and will do anything they can to help you. I go on a lot of training camps a year but I always communicate with my lecturers first, they are always more than obliging and will go out of their way to help me get work or catch up on work I have missed.

It can be hard and sometimes you may feel like you are burning the candle at both ends but a massive help to this is making sure that you have good nutrition and lots of energy from having the right diet in order to make sure you can apply yourself both academically and in your sport. Nutrition is a massive factor which many people don’t realise.

Law is so enjoyable to study, if you put in the hours it is so satisfying when you see your results. Sport is just a sport as well, and it’s a great comfort to know that if for some reason it doesn’t work out or you get injured that you have something solid to fall back on. You will have to be prepared to miss the nights out, but if you find the right friends they will understand and you will do other things with them to make up for it. Trust me, when you get that gold medal it is all worth it!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Lydia, and best of luck for the Senior Europeans in October! 

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