Heather Boyle comes to the Olympic Federation of Ireland from Cycling Ireland where she worked for nine years. A native of Galway, she lives in Wicklow and her professional career started in banking – Bank of Ireland and Investment Funds company GAM – before she moved into sport.
Heather has a Masters in Equality Studies and an honours Diploma in Public Relations. As well as working at numerous World and European Cycling Championships, Heather has represented Cycling Ireland and their athletes at two Paralympic Games.
Q: What does your new role as OLYMPIC FEDERATION OF IRELAND’S Athletes’ Commission Support involve?
A: It is two-fold. I am the support resource for the Athletes’ Commission (working on the programmes & activations outlined in their strategy). I am also the Public Relations Officer for the Olympic Federation of Ireland which involves creating content and managing all the Team Ireland channels and also managing our relationships with the media and various stakeholders. The two roles are linked as the Olympic Federation of Ireland has a firm commitment to be athlete-focused.
Q: You competed for Ireland in rowing. What were the high and low points of your rowing career?
A: As a kid I was sporty but not good at traditional sports, so finding my tribe in rowing was so rewarding. My mother rowed in skiffs in her native Glandore and hearing how she talked about boats and water just spoke to me. I first represented Ireland at the age of 15, but it was not until 2001, when I became a lightweight, that I started performing on the world stage. My highlight was a silver medal in the LW1X Lucerne World Cup in 2003 and finishing 5th in the World Championships in Japan in 2005 with Sinead Jennings in the LW2X.
The low point was just before I retired from rowing in 2007. I think every athlete hits a low when they retire, but my way of overcoming it was to reinvent myself, by throwing myself into a new sport which was cycling. I went on to represent Ireland at a few races, including a Track Cycling World Cup in Colombia.
Q: What did your work involve in Cycling Ireland and what additional insight into high-performance athletes did you glean that you can transfer to your new role?
A: I started in administration, moved into the coach and education area and, for the last three years, focused solely on communications. In that time, Cycling Ireland grew from a staff of five to 17 and it was very exciting to be part of that growth. A big part of my role was working with high-performance athletes during events. In some Olympic sports, athletes don’t always have a lot of exposure to the media which brings positives as well as challenges. It can be refreshing for the media and the public to hear athletes who aren’t overly polished tell their story in their own language.
But high-performance athletes often don’t realise they are also signing up to be a public figure and may not be comfortable with that extra attention. The mixed zone can also be a daunting place, especially if athletes don’t reach their planned performance standard. Having a friendly face there that they recognise can help, and I also understand the need to facilitate media at such events at times.
Q: Why did you want this job and why do you think you got it?
A: What I liked so much about the job spec was the dual aspect of working with the athletes’ commission, and in public relations. I think that every athlete has a story to tell, and that makes working with Team Ireland so exciting.
The Olympic Games is one of the most iconic brands in the world, and it is an honour to be representing them in a professional capacity. One of the things that I would love to highlight is the idea of Olympism, to promote the values of friendship, respect and excellence. These are values that are important to me. I think that sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the role they play in the Olympic movement.
Q: How does the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s Athletes’ Commission operate and what practical difference can it make to current and future generations of Irish Olympians?
A: The Athletes’ Commission consists of nine athletes across a range of sports. One of them (Shane O’Connor) is a member of the Olympic Federation of Ireland board which ensures they are consulted as part of the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s decision-making process. My role will be to help create that network through regular communication and networking events. The first event on the agenda is a gathering in December which will be a fun and interesting networking evening.