By TRACEY ROXBURGH
A Queenstown triathlete says winning a new award, which recognises athletes overcoming obstacles, outshone her recent race success.
Fiona Gallagher, 27, came second in her age group at last month’s Tauranga Half in a time of 4 hours, 39 minutes.
Impressively, it was her first half-distance ironman race.
But after crossing the finish line she was named as the inaugural winner of the Tony O’Hagan Cup, something she says was ‘‘humbling and emotional’’ .
O’Hagan, a Tauranga local, was a well-known triathlon coach who raced to a high level as an age grouper, before passing on his knowledge to others.
He died suddenly last year, aged 55.
His partner, Rachael Quin, worked with the Mount Festival of Multisport, an annual triathlon event in Mount Maunganui, to create the memorial award, handed out for the first time this year.
It recognises an athlete who’s overcome obstacles to arrive on the start-line, and is targeted at newcomers to the sport.
Gallagher, originally from Ireland, is in her third season of racing and was nominated by her partner, Joe Sutheran.
He says in her first attempt at a 70.3km distance, at 2019’s Challenge Wanaka, she was in the front pack after 89km on the bike before she crashed coming round one of the last corners, breaking her collarbone.
She had surgery in June, 2019, and was back at Challenge Wanaka last year, winning the Aquabike age group race, qualifying her for the world champs as part of the Tri New Zealand team — canned due to Covid.
Coached by Foot Traffic’s Rob Dallimore, Sutheran says Gallagher’s the hardest-working athlete he’s ever seen.
Past challenges and personal trauma means she’s cognisant of her mental health and how it affects her performance, and has been vocal about the importance of taking care of that, and how sport’s helped her.
Quin, who presented Gallagher with the award, says her mental health awareness made her the stand-out because it was ‘‘something Tony was quietly passionate about’’.
‘‘He saw triathlon, and generally sport, as a way to enhance people’s wellbeing and resilience to meet those everyday challenges — and also unexpected ones.
‘‘Sport, exercise [and] movement, as Tony would attest to, is one of the key pillars for society to function successfully by allowing individuals to feel fulfilled, relevant and to have
a damn good night’s sleep.’’
Gallagher also epitomised another of O’Hagan’s beliefs — getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
‘‘Fiona knows that there are no shortcuts and she has found the tools to confront uncomfortable situations,’’ Quin says.
Gallagher’s got little time to celebrate the award win, though – she’s next on the start-line at next month’s Taupo Ironman.