Eábha McKenna competed in the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Gangwon, South Korea, just one year after her first taste of the Olympic movement in the European Youth Olympic Festival 2023.
We caught up with the Wicklow born, Swiss based promising young Alpine Skier this week;
- How has the week been so far?
It’s been really great and I’ve met a lot of new people and stuff. Honestly, at the beginning of the week, it was pretty foggy and everything and you couldn’t see much. So up until yesterday, I had no idea what was even around me. But yesterday it started then clearing up when we could see the mountains and stuff and instead it got extremely cold. So it’s been very cold here, but it’s been great. It’s really fun so far.
- How are the slopes?
Well, the ski slopes, I don’t find them too steep, especially the ones that we’re racing on. They’re medium to nearly flat-ish, but we haven’t been on too many slopes, but they all seem super nice. The snow is for sure is different. I think the first training day I was a little bit shocked because it seemed like it was hard underneath, but on top it was kind like balls, kind of slushy and it was really hard to figure out how to ski, and to deal with that kind snow. But now on the race slope, especially today and on the Super G Day, it was nice and it was pretty good. The slope held up well. It was hard.
- Tell me about growing up in Ireland.
I don’t have that many memories, I lived in between Rathdrum and Glendalough in Wicklow in the middle of a forest in a small house. I can’t remember that much. But sometimes a deer would pop out from the trees, you’d see them through the window and we had a dog and stuff and so it was really great.
- Tell me about where you live in Switzerland.
Well, we live in Beckenreid, which is a small little village, kind of in the middle of Switzerland, about 20 minutes from Lucerne or an hour south from Zurich. And it’s really pretty. We’ve got a small little ski resort up there where I used to train as a kid. Now I can’t so much because it’s hard to find training, but it’s a nice small little resort.
- Tell me about your journey into the sport of skiing.
I was five years old when I started skiing, my parents then took me to ski lessons in Berg and I went to the Swiss ski school and stuff. I can’t remember much of that, but there was a great deal of huffing involved with it as well, but fun as well as kids do. And then when I was seven or eight, my parents helped me enter a ski club from our local town. That’s when I started training in gates or free skiing more. And that’s when I discovered my love for skiing.
- What made you know you wanted to take skiing seriously?
Honestly, I don’t know exactly what made me want to do more of it, but I think I kind of started off with the training and then I went racing and I was always dead last. I was really bad at the beginning, but I dunno, I loved it so much and loved being out in the snow and up on the mountains and punching the gates when that phase started. So then I remember one day coming down a slope and telling my parents I wanted to be a World Cup skier, and they were always like, oh, someday that’ll pretty much go away, but it hasn’t so far. So I keep going.
- Describe your first entry to international skiing.
My first competition was skiing for Ireland, was at Trofeu Borrufa in Andorra. It was my first year of under 14 and I didn’t know anybody there, so it was very scary at the beginning. But back then there were quite a few Irish kids that lived in Ireland and came there and we had quite a big group and they were all super lovely. So they made me feel welcome really fast. And then I just kept continuing going to races once or twice a year up until racing FIS with Ireland. It was just an obvious choice that I’d ski for Ireland. It’s my nationality, it’s my passport.
- Last year you competed in the EYOF – what did you bring from that competition to the Youth Olympics?
So I knew that at the EYOF last year, I figured that when I got too stressed out then it wouldn’t go so well. So quite often I’d just be chatting at the start or trying to, I knew exactly what to do because I just looked at it as any other FIS race that I’d done so far. So I knew that I had to do this year as well. And it’s like the name is big, it’s like the Youth Olympics, so it’s a huge thing, but you just have to pretend that it’s kind of like any other race and treat it the same way and then it should hopefully be okay or go well.
- Tell me about the skiing community and the friends you make.
So I got the opportunity to go to a FIS camp, which is for smaller nations. The ones that aren’t so good at skiing yet. And you get to send one female and one male athlete per those countries that are invited. We got to go down to Argentina last summer, which was amazing and all costs were covered, apart from the flight. I met a bunch of people from different countries here, and there’s about five or six of them athletes that are here, two from Brazil, two from Cyprus, and a Lebanese girl, the New Zealand girl that I was talking to today, I met her in under 16 because she used to come to Switzerland every winter to come and do under 14, under 16 races. So it’s amazing that I get to see them all again. It’s really cool.
- What kind of training do you have to do for Alpine Skiing?
You need quite a lot of training, obviously you get as much training in as you can. Unfortunately I’m not on a team this year, so I’ve just kind of been doing whatever I can. But I got lucky with the FIS Camp, which was three weeks long in Argentina. And then I got to go on another one for four weeks in Austria in October, November. And since then I’ve just spent mainly doing races but also trying to fit in a little bit of training, especially over Christmas and a couple of days in December as well. But it would require quite a lot of more training. But I think I’ve been doing pretty well considering I’m not in a team.
- What do you do during the summer months.
I do a bit of hiking. I don’t like it as much as my parents wish I did. But yeah, we do a bit of hiking and biking in the summer and when I get time I also go climbing a little bit with my dad and my brother. So it’s great. It’s really nice.
- How do you manage to mix study and training?
It’s really stressful and it’s really hard to find the time to fit in all of your athlete programme. Then on top of that, go to school. Whenever I’m at school, it’s nine hours if not more per day. And then you need to come home and study more, but at the same time, you also need to do your sports and it’s really hard to find the balance. But it’s been working so far and I’ve kept my grades, so it’s all okay. Got this year and one more year left and then off to uni at one point.
- What do you want to do when you are finished?
No idea yet. I really don’t know. I like sports obviously and psychology, but I don’t know what else I like yet. So I need to kind of figure out what I like first and then decide where I’m going to go.
- What is up for the rest of the season?
So we’re going to the Junior World Championships straight after this year, and that’ll be for about a week. And there is going to be three more Irish guys joining us along with me and Finlay. And then the rest of the season so far, I don’t know, we for sure have the Irish champs in March. And then we have another set of speed Irish champs in April, followed by other ones organized by Ireland. So I’ll for sure be doing them. And otherwise I’ll just be trying to do a bit of training wherever I can find it and a few races, but it’ll have to tone down a little bit now because of studying and stuff.