A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence. – Jim Watkins.
That’s what Jen reminds me of as she speaks of her pursuit to summit Mount Everest.
Studying Sports Science in Wales is where her love of the outdoors was ignited, having Snowdonia national park as her playground as a break from the books. Jenny returned to Ireland and went on to become a trainee outdoor instructor, gaining her rock climbing awards, mountain skills, and mountain leader training. The opportunities to gain mountain experience in Ireland and winter skills training in Scotland afforded six young trainees to set their sights on summiting Mount Blanc, as a self-guided expedition. Having always aspired to be a physiotherapist she pursued her studies as a mature student to complete an Honors degree in Physiotherapy from RCSI. Whilst the mountains may have slipped into the background, life in the fast lane continued. With her dad into motor-racing, Jen was introduced to motorsports at a very young age. At 21, she was in the Fiat Punto racing group. She raced in Kirkistown, MondelloPark and Pheonix Park (where in, 1903 the first Irish Grand Prix was held).
She met her husband Bob at Mondello racing track, career and family life ensued and she is now the mother of four children: Charlotte, Josh, Harriott and Elliott. Whilst a very different fast lane than the track, the pace of keeping up with the school runs was enough to put one in a spin! She laughs away as she says there were times when ‘bringing the kids from school’ routine was three times a day with an hour interval between drives. But that did not stop her from training herself on a daily basis. She targeted yearly marathons and managed to keep herself engaged with them. She ran the Dublin Marathon in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Striving for a work life balance of three days’ work and two days home with the children, life was a juggling act that many parents will relate to.
She hit an inexplicable low in 2014. While she couldn’t put her finger on the cause, she was grateful she could talk about it and seek help. “I tried to work full-time, manage a home and four young children. Many were affected during the recession with job loss and soaring mortgage rates and we were no different. I overcompensated trying to fix things, but it backfired. It’s a hard landing having to accept that I am only human, only capable of being such….not superhuman as I had strived to be, an unrealistic expectation of a life I thought I should be able to do and be.”
Bob, who knew her passion for the outdoors and sport asked her to check out Ian Taylor’s call for Irish mountaineers. In 2016, Ian Taylor gathered a group of Irish mountaineers to summit Mount Everest. She was drawn into the idea immediately as it was a team effort towards a common goal.
She started working towards the goal through her day – along with school runs, lunch packing and homework not to speak of the Pilates classes and physio work classes she held until Dec 2017.
Lauren Groff’s starting lines in the book FLORIDA ‘I have somehow become a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with watchful, frozen faces, I have taken to lacing on my running shoes after dinner” – seems to be a funny take on the situation.
From packed motherhood to bouts of ill mental health (anxiety and episodic depression) on towards her new goal: Mount Everest – we can but gape in awe at the pattern of her graph, while having its own ups and downs, has eventually taken on a beautiful shape.
“Being in the wild helps. It is free and your mind is set free”. Being in the mountains became the ‘me time’ for her as she sneaked in time between school hours and weekends. Thanks to being in a team, Ireland on Everest, she was able to work in a systematic manner towards her goals, one summit at a time.
From an original group of almost 30 people who met in March 2016 with the dream of putting Irish Climbers atop Mount Everest, four have eventually remained as the ‘Ireland on Everest’ team. The team have summitted the peaks across Asia, America and Europe as part of their training to climb the tallest of them all. Mera Peak, the Amphulaptse Pass, Island Peak and Denali were all tackled in two years (2017-2018). Jen and her teammate Prof. Seamus Lawless from Trinity College have marked Mount Everest for April 2019.
With ‘Everest’ being a few weeks away, her routine is packed with cardio, strength and flexibility training in preparation . She breaks her training into twice a day routine and goes for an 8km run for four days a week. The other part she does a mix of rock-climbing sessions with her teammate Seamus, 80 km cycling with her Dad, Yoga, TRX, and hill-walking in the Wicklow and Mourne mountains with 15 – 20 kgs on her back.
Along with the self-training, she also trains young children and scout groups on ‘outdoor adventure’. As part of their team goals for Ireland on Everest, Jen and Seamus visit schools to try to inspire children with their stories of training and expeditions.
“Seek help, give help and enjoy the journey that the combined effort and kindness brings. It is the journey that is the most amazing part and often not the destination”
“Whilst I had an ultimate goal that at that time seemed unattainable, I dared to dream. You need to start with self-belief and small goals. Little by little you succeed and continue to increase your stakes till you’re ready to conquer ‘your Everest’” she says, as I struggle to get her to talk between peals of laughter.
‘Onwards and Upwards’ and ‘Conquering Everest’ are more ‘literal’ than ‘metaphorical’ for this mother of four, doting wife and, hopefully, the 9th Irish Woman to conquer Everest after her summit.
She is making ‘herstory’.