Paratriathlete Donnacha McCarthy is well accustomed to adapting to changing environments. Having lost his sight at the age of 10, Donnacha has spent much of his life adjusting new surroundings and learning to adapt.

On the eve of his scheduled departure for the Abu Dhabi ITU World Triathlon Cup in February, he spoke to RTE commentator and sports broadcaster Darragh Maloney in front of an audience of friends and clients of HLB Sheehan Quinn at a special event in Dublin. The topic of conversation swayed from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo, as Donnacha gave his estimations on qualification for the 2020 Paralympic Games. Just a couple of days later, everything changed as the global spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus intensified. Now, with the Tokyo Games moved to 2021, and with his events calendar for the coming months suddenly looking sparse, Donnacha reflects on adapting to changing circumstances in rapidly-changing times.

Donnacha writes – In Triathlon, everything can change rather abruptly.

Because you’re dealing with three separate disciplines, you have to concentrate on three distinctly different environments. You have to be constantly aware and ready to adapt. For me, it’s that bit trickier, because let’s say, during the run – I’m can’t see where my foot lands on the ground. So I could hit uneven ground, a stone or a slight crack in the road and completely lose my balance, my pace and as a consequence lose time and maybe more in the race.

The situation we currently find ourselves in is one that changed literally overnight. I had been preparing firstly for the Abu Dhabi World Cup, which was cancelled due to Coronavirus, followed by the Sarasota-Bradenton ITU Triathlon World Cup in Florida, which was also cancelled by the time my coaches, team and I arrived stateside. We were training well and ready to give it our best shot in both events but sadly, it wasn’t to be.

The same obviously goes for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. It’s heart-breaking for those who had already qualified after the effort and hard work it has taken over the full four-year cycle. But none of those efforts will have been in vain. The starting line is just that bit further out.

For me, as a relatively ‘new’ athlete in that I have only been competing in Triathlon for three years, I am looking at the next 12 months as an added opportunity to train, learn and grow, physically and mentally. Everything is on hold at the moment, but the work continues. We just adapt to a new setting and continue to thrive.

“It’s amazing how creative we can be when we have limited resources and find ourselves faced with a challenge.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve actually spent my time working on my balance, which is something that always gets put on the long finger during the season. Over the course of the winter months, training is focused on conditioning, while the first quarter of the year is all about getting the miles up. Now, with the restrictions imposed, I’ve had a chance to work on my balance and flexibility at home. So hopefully when I get back out on the road, those pesky stones or cracks in the road will cause me far less trouble!

Being confined to the house also encourages innovation and inventive thinking. In the absence of a balance board, I’ve been relying on a couple of pillows for my balance training. I’ve also heard of other athletes using the humble kitchen chair as a bench for stretching, weights workouts and even as a hurdle! It’s amazing how creative we can be when we have limited resources and find ourselves faced with a challenge.

While it’s still possible to train and make gains without the elite equipment and expensive technology, I am very glad of having access to Whatsapp and Zoom to stay connected with family and friends. The past few weeks have also given me a chance to reconnect with people I may not have been in touch with, due to time constraints and an otherwise hectic training schedule. I think it’s important for us all to look at the present situation with opportunity in mind. While we’re all apart, we have never been closer, thanks to technology. It doesn’t make up for spending time together in the same place, but it certainly makes the separation that bit easier.

I’m using my time at home to remain productive, remain positive and keep a routine going. When our routine changes, that’s when good habits are effected, so I would encourage you to keep up a routine, simplify your training and take advantage of what you can do in the absence of what you can’t. That applies to working-from-home also. Maybe now is the time to revisit the project you haven’t had the chance to finish, or like me with my balance training, work on something that’s been on your list for a while but has been superseded by other activity. Most importantly, mind your health and stay well – your health is your wealth after all.

HLB Sheehan Quinn is proud to support Irish Paratriathlete Donnacha McCarthy in his quest to represent his country on the global stage in Tokyo in 2021. Donnacha, who was recently awarded the 2019 Para Athlete of the Year award by Triathlon Ireland, is visually-impaired and has been competing in PTVI events since 2017. He has previously won back-to-back Paratriathlon National Titles (2018 & 2019) as well as claiming third place in the World Paratriathlon Cup in 2018.