When I think of the phrase ‘following your dream’ my first thought is of a struggling Waffle House waitress from Alabama who once played the lead role in a High School musical landing in Los Angeles with the dream of making it as a big ticket movie star, along with tens of thousands of others. My first thought is not of a local kid that I have watched grow up whose subtle determination to follow their dream could easily be missed. The Alabama waitress may be the quintessential dreamer with little chance of success but the same cannot be said of the steely eyed young men of Carrick on Suir and Clonmel.
There is a house in Carrick on Suir where a small photograph hangs in the hallway. A boy of 9 or 10 is running along the grass verge in the same direction as the breakaway group in one of the biggest amateur races on the Irish Cycling Calandar. The boy is focused on just one rider from the group of eight. His father is just about to launch an attack that will bring him to the line first. He will also soon be wearing the jersey of Irish National Champion. The boy dreams of emulating his father.
Fast forward a number of years and the same boy, now rapidly on his way towards adulthood, having become a prolific junior race winner stands in a town square named after one of the greatest cyclists of all time. The day is New Year’s Day and the local cycling community including the boy and his father, has gathered to wish Sam Bennett well on his first day as a professional at the top end of the sport.
Michael O’Loughlin leans on his bike standing alongside his mother. I am perhaps one of the few who catches what he says as he turns to his mother and quietly but determinedly states ‘Within 4 years I’m going to have a day like this’
There was no cockiness or arrogance in the way he spoke. It was not being broadcast. It was just a statement of intention and self belief.
Last Sunday I remembered that day and smiled to myself as I looked over at Michael aboard his brand new team bike having secured that professional contract.
When I was 16, my friends sister rang and asked if I would be interested in babysitting her 2 year old son Jamie. He was a nice kid, a real live wire with an easy smile so I was happy to earn few extra quid looking after him every now and then. At the time he was a big Tipp hurling fan and Nicky Engine (English) was his hero.
With a grandfather who won stages of the Ras and an uncle who raced at a high level, it wasn’t long before Jamie got the cycling bug. A good underage and junior rider along with being a serial teenage entrepreneur made for a hectic lifestyle and the bike eventually had to take second place. A passionate love for the sport and a keen interest in the protagonists never left him though.
Then one evening I received a text. It was a message from Jamie on the evening that Chris Froome had won the Tour de France, and Jamie having gone over to witness the spectacle had managed to somehow gain entry into the team Sky celebration after party.
From that moment on he knew where his destiny lay and it wasn’t long before a promising career in the booming London construction industry was left behind in order to follow his dream. An opportunity from Andrew McQuaid of Trinity Sports management presented itself and Jamie became a UCI riders agent totally immersed in the World that he has always dreamed of.
A few weeks ago Jamie sent me a message to ask if I wanted to go for a spin with him and another rider who was coming to stay with him back home in Ardfinnan. The rider was Nico Roche and I was delighted to join them both for a spin but was even more impressed that evening as I sat in the back row of a conference room thronged with cyclists who sat enthralled as up on stage, Jamie chatted to Nico and hosted a great evening of entertainment and information. I couldn’t help but think that the 2 year old with Nicky Engine for a hero had come a long way.
Last Tuesday evening I found myself in the company of Bradley Wiggins for dinner and who was the first person he asked if I knew? Only Jamie.
On a side note I have to say that the former Tour de France winner is the most passionate and well informed cycling fan that I have ever met. He is also very entertaining company.
Another Carrick on Suir Dreamchaser came up in conversation. Sam Bennett who I remember from the very first day he walked into the shop as a shy young teenager looking to buy his first road bike. Sam is no longer chasing the dream but now living it out in full technicolor from a stylish apartment in Monaco, as one of the sports top sprinters having overcome all kinds of adversity along the way. Sam is now the inspiration for all who follow in his tyre tracks.
Then there’s the ultimate cyclists dream achiever, once again from Carrick on Suir, the 6 time World Number one Sean Kelly. From a young age there was a desire for success within Kelly but it wasn’t until he found the bike that his massive work ethic and determination to succeed found its natural outlet. By winning 193 races at the very top he cemented his place amongst the few true legends of the sport. As his business partner in our Clothing company seankellycycling.com , I get to see on a regular basis the focus and attention to detail that was such a contributing factor in his success.
Sitting down to dinner on Tuesday evening, beside Sean and Bradley as we chatted about Michael, Jamie and Sam I couldn’t help but wonder two things. One – How small the World is, and Two – What is in the water of the River Suir that makes so many Dream chasers into Dream makers.