Interview with Crossfit/Olympic Weightlifting Athlete: Saoirse Houlihan

Anyone who was at the Waterford Throwdown in June will know who Saoirse Houlihan is, or maybe you have heard her nickname “The up-circle” queen after she showed us all how gymnastics should be done in WOD 2.  (I actually stopped trying to attempt it and stood looking at her in awe!) Saoirse has been named the fittest female teenager in Ireland, and really I am not surprised. Coming from a background in gymnastics, the 17 year old athlete has now moved into CrossFit and weightlifting and is now making her name known in this field. She is definitely one to watch and I believe she is going to have great success as an athlete. I’ve spoken to Saoirse at a few competitions now and she is such a lovely down to earth girl. I’m delighted to interview Saoirse for Primal Piggy and I can’t wait to see what’s next for this young athlete.

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Primalpiggy: Hi Saoirse, Great to have you on board! Tell me about your fitness background?

Saoirse Houlihan: Thank you! So, I’ve always been a very active child and I have tried out endless amounts of sports such as gymnastics, soccer, swimming, irish dancing, GAA and athletics but the one sports that I stuck to from the start was gymnastics. I started gymnastics in primary school when it was our PE class and from there I joined the Kilbarry Gymnastic Club and trained and competed with them up until I was 16. I’m very thankful to have done gymnastics because it has benefited me so much in Crossfit and weightlifting. It’s a lot easier to lift when you have zero mobility issues and I also had basic strength from the years of training which gave me a head start.

PP: What drew you away from gymnastics and into CF & Weightlifting?

SH: Both my Mum and Dad were in CrossFit and after I had finished gymnastics on a Saturday morning I would always walk over and watch them in the gym until they had finished. I loved going to CrossFit and just watching everyone do the wods and lift weights, I found it fascinating and I really wanted to join in. During that summer Tom Dunphy held free CrossFit classes in the park on a Sunday morning and that’s how Sibeal and I first got into Crossfit and Weighlifting. 

PP: Did you enjoy taking part in the CrossFit open? What was the biggest lesson you learned?

SH: I really enjoyed the Open, it was a great learning experience for me. It highlighted what I needed to work on but it also showed me my strengths. The biggest lesson I learned was probably just not to take it so seriously and just enjoy competing and comparing scores. I also learned that I really need to work on my muscle ups! I was disappointed when I couldn’t RX that workout but I knew myself I didn’t have the strength to do one yet. It was also my first time trying handstand pushups from no mat and I managed to get onto the 4th round of them. 

PP: Amazing!! How did it feel to be named Ireland’s fittest (female) teenager?

SH: It was a pretty great feeling as I finally earned a name that proved the hard work I put into my training. I was surprised with how I placed in Europe as I didn’t expect to do that well because I only joined Crossfit last Summer and I was still fairly new to some of the movements.

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PP: It was incredible to see! What’s your proudest fitness moment to date?

SH: Probably just competing in weightlifting competitions as I never thought I’d be able to stand in front of a crowd. I’m proud that I have gained enough confidence to do that and so much more.

PP: Tell me about your training programme, and how you get yourself competition ready?

SH: I usually try to lift and do CrossFit 3-4 times a week. I stick to the wod that’s on the board and I follow a separate lifting programme. Before a competition I would try to focus mainly on Crossfit two weeks prior to the date to get my cardio up a little bit more. Then the week of the competition I would train normally but leave two days rest beforehand. During those rest days I would just work on stretching and mobility so I’m not stiff or sore on the day.

PP: What inspires you to go to the gym every day, and do you ever have an off-day?

SH: The thought of getting stronger and bettering myself is one thing that inspires me to go to the gym. I quite often have off-days, sometimes I’m too tired or just not in the mood and I end up having a bad lifting session.  It’s frustrating but after a rest day I normally come back into the gym determined to have a better training day than my last one.

PP: What advice would you give to other teenagers thinking about joining a CrossFit box or competing for the first time?

SH: For a teenager who is competing or just joining I would say not to worry about how much weight they are lifting or how fast they can do a wod compared to everyone else! When I first joined CrossFit and I’m sure everyone else was in the same situation when they first started, I was using a plastic PVC pipe to learn how to lift a bar. I was nervous seeing all the other women lifting really heavy and thought I’d never get to that stage. As I became more familiar with the movements and lifts I gradually made my way to a 15kg bar and then I increased the weight of the lifts until I met the RX’d prescribed weight.

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PP: I love it, great advice!! Have you ever experienced an injury? How do you stay injury free?                                                    

 SH: I have only ever experienced small injuries such as a sprained ankle and a sprained wrist. I try to stay injury free by stretching before and after training and by maintaining good mobility. If I ever feel pain while training I stop immediately as it’s not a smart decision to continue and worsen the problem.  Most importantly I make sure to take enough rest days so my body has time to recover from a hard training session.

PP: How often do you hear the argument that women shouldn’t lift heavy weights? Do you think this is starting to change?

SH: I don’t hear it as often as I used to! I think people are becoming more accepting of women lifting over the past year, it’s not as unusual as it once was. It’s definitely starting to change, women are moving on from skinny to healthy and fit. There are still some people who think women shouldn’t lift heavy but I believe they’re just afraid of strong women, I know some men or boys might feel emasculated but we can’t let them stop us doing something we’re passionate about.

PP: YES!! Love that answer!!! I know your Mam is a paleo chef at The Paleo Crunch Co. (delicious btw!!) Do you eat paleo or follow a specific diet?

SH: I tried to follow the Paleo diet but it didn’t really suit me with my eating habits! Since I’m a very picky eater and I don’t like a lot of food so I decided not to follow it anymore. I try to maintain a healthy balanced diet which, really is the idea of paleo with enough protein and carbs so I have energy to workout and lift in the gym from natural non processed foods. I normally eat paleo treats such as mixed nut bars or sweet potato brownies as I think they are just as nice, if not better than non paleo treats!

PP: Can you share your favourite recipe/meals?

SH: My favourite recipe is the paleo banana pancake. It consists of just 2 eggs and 1 banana mixed together. This is so simple and easy to make I eat it almost every morning before school with mixed berries on the side. Another favourite snack I love to eat are paleo energy balls, these are made out of dates, mixed nuts, desiccated coconut, protein powder(optional) and seeds. Once they’re all blended together the mix can be rolled into small balls then rolled again in more desiccated coconut as a topping. 

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PP: Ok, now I’m hungry! What’s your favourite and least favourite WOD and why?

SH: My favourite wod would have to be Karen (150 wall balls for time). Since I’m quite tall I find wall balls easier than most people do and with only a 6kg ball it flies up to the target. I think I have a quick enough time but there’s always room to improve! My goal is sub 6 minutes. 

My least favourite wod is Murph as I don’t like running.  The two 1 mile runs really aren’t nice, they’re manageable but I still don’t like them!

PP: Have to agree with you there, Murph is torture lol!! Who are your biggest athletic or general inspirations?

SH: Lauren Fisher has been my biggest inspiration since I started CrossFit.  I love what Lauren stands for and what she teaches girls about being strong and healthy and that we can achieve any goals that we put our minds to.

PP: Great choice, Love Lauren Fisher myself! Finally Saoirse, What’s next for you?

SH: Next I hope to focus on my Olympic Lifting and getting stronger. Since I will be doing my Leaving Cert in school I plan on cutting back on CrossFit  and just lift for the time being.  Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 13.04.49

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