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Grace McKenzie isn’t your average 18 year old Monkstown, Cork native. Now training at MSU, she is one of Irelands aspiring Pentathletes and Heptathletes, Run Republic speak to Grace about how she got involved in athletics and her plans and ambitions for the future.

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A quick few questions to get to know Grace

Favourite Song

My favourite song for before a meet would have to be either Back in Black or Thunderstruck by ACDC because there’s nothing better to get you fired up in the warm up areas

Favourite Movie

I have a lot of movies that I love but I would definitely say Million Dollar Baby is a particular favourite

Favourite TV Show

Of course as a typical female Irish teenager my favourite to show was Home and Away but now I don’t get that much time between study, classes and training to be watching any TV, when I do it’s usually Friday Night Lights repeats or House

Favourite thing to do when you’re not training

To think about training!! It’s always there in the back of my mind no matter what. I love hanging out with my friends and family but weirdly one of my favourite things to do is to play scrabble which I also get way too competitive in

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How did you get involved in athletics?

I’m just about to turn 19 and have been involved in athletics since I was just 12 years old. Beginning athletics was kind of a funny lucky mistake but once I hit the track, even then I knew I was going to love it. My first club and only club has been Belgooly Athletics Club. My events are the Pentathlon and Heptathlon. I found my way to these events out of pure greediness with the sport, I wanted to try and win EVERYTHING and in my eyes heptathletes and decathletes are the greatest athletes in the world.

What has your journey to being a heptathlete been like so far?

So over the years I began to learn more and more about each of the 7 events and I travelled around with my coach, most often in the UK, to compete and learn as much as possible. As every athlete will tell you injuries and illnesses are for the most part unavoidable and a serious additional challenge to what you do.

I’ve had my fair share even as a young athlete between the times I was growing, as all athletes will experience, but also I experienced a blood clot in my brain in 2013. The time that this caused me to be away from athletics made me want to work harder than ever to come back and go so much further beyond what I had been achieving athletically up to that point. With incredible support from my family, coach and physical therapist we began the work on what ended up being one of my best years in athletics in 2014 and early 2015 and ultimately, what I believe got me the recognition from abroad and this amazing scholarship.

I was first contacted about studying and training in the US in February 2015 by the head coach here at McNeese State University. I was just after sitting my mocks for the Leaving Cert obviously a hectic year but my spirits were seriously lifted after being contacted. Oddly I had never given a thought to training in the US until I was speaking to the coaches over here at McNeese, but this opportunity is one that nobody would be able to turn away. The facilities, the coaches, (the bit of heat and sunshine) it’s all so different to home but so great if you are willing to grab it by the horns, work hard and adapt to a new environment!

How do you find your training has progressed since going to MSU?

I think I’ve really progressed since coming to McNeese, I’m using weights for the first time so I’m feeling stronger, we’re doing a vigorous program and workout each week and my endurance has come on a lot and it could be very interesting to see what I can make of my first year of competition over here.

What are your current PB’s and your future goals?

My biggest achievement, it’s a dead tie between when I jumped 1.71m in Athlone in my first competition after my brain clot and when I got to compete against Brianne Thiesen Eaton in the high jump, also in Athlone.

My PB’s are hurdles 15.93s (9.45 indoor), long jump 5.41m, high jump 1.71m, 800m 2:30, javelin 26m , shot putt 10.15, 200m I’m not quite sure of my time but I think it’s in the 28 range.

There’s some room for improvement and I feel a lot stronger and faster than I have before so I’m hopeful that I’ll see a few PB’s next season. I’d really like to get a new heptathlon and pentathlon on which I think is very do-able, and I particularly want to reach 11m in the shot putt, the high 5’s in the long jump and get back in those 1.70’s in the high jump

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