INDEPENDENT PEOPLE: ELISHA COLGAN
An average week in the life of Elisha Colgan involves teaching in Athlone's Marist College, devoting “at least” twelve hours to coaching gymnastics, and then working “the odd night” in Sean’s Bar.
When you factor in hobbies that include swimming and CrossFit training it is quite the hectic routine, but Elisha isn't complaining.
“I am always on the go, but I would never be in bad form about it,” she says. “I’m a great believer in doing what you love to do. People say to me, would you ever leave Sean’s? Would you ever cut back on the gymnastics? But I couldn’t. I love it. If it makes me happy then it’s what I’ll continue doing for the foreseeable future.”
It has been a memorable few weeks for the 29-year-old, as she was recently named Coach of the Year by Gymnastics Ireland in recognition of her role with Athlone Gymnastics Club. The award will be presented at a function in Dublin on Saturday, November 18.
This national honour came as a complete surprise to Elisha. She had been nominated by her club, but was unaware of the nomination until the mother of one of the children she coaches told her she had won the award.
“I was just floored, because I knew nothing about it,” she recalls. “Coaching is not something I do for an award, I do it because I love it. But I was so thrilled. I've never had a feeling like it.”
She said it was particularly humbling to have been nominated by her peers in Athlone Gymnastics Club, and she believes the award is recognition not just of her own role but of the club in general.
“Myself and the club director, Nicola Ryan, are being supported by a brilliant committee. So the award is a reflection of the work everyone has done in the club. I'm just the one who's lucky enough to receive it.”
Originally from Brideswell, Elisha is the only daughter of Geraldine and (Marist College principal) Tony Colgan.
Growing up alongside four brothers, she explains that she had “a bit of a tomboy in me” as a child. She was involved in other sports, including soccer and gaelic football, but began to really enjoy gymnastics about a year after starting in the club at the age of seven.
The club is now based in Monksland, at the Westpoint Business Park, but when Elisha and some of her neighbours first joined, training was held in the old Athlone Community College gym.
“Those were the days when you could bundle any amount of children into the car, so we’d all bundle into the back of a van – pure country! – about seven or eight of us gymnasts in our little leotards. And we’d train for hours.
“In gymnastics, you’ve got the bars, beam, vault and floor. So there was constant change and you had to work really hard. We were only young at the time but when I look back now I can see that the coaches instilled such a good work ethic in us.”
Both of her parents were involved with the club at various stages, and Elisha said her family was always engrossed in the big gymnastics competitions such as the Olympic Games.
“It’s a fascinating sport to look at, so my brothers and myself would always have watched both the male and female gymnastics competitions. Mam and Dad loved it as well, so any year there was a big competition we would look at it.
“It’s only in the past ten years that (the sport) has been growing in Ireland. The popularity of gymnastics has spiked, and I don’t think it’s hit the highest point yet.”
When her participation as a gymnast ended, around the age of 15, Elisha started on the road to becoming a coach.
“At that time, you could go straight into coaching. Now you have to be 17 or 18. I gave up (participation) one week and within a month I was back in, training for a coaching course.”
Aside from a three-year break in her mid-twenties, Elisha has been coaching with the club ever since. Its membership has grown significantly over the last year and there are now has just over 400 children involved, aged between six and sixteen.
“The kids are from all over Athlone and from the likes of Longford and Tullamore as well. We are the only club in the Midlands that is fully recognised by Gymnastics Ireland and would compete at national level.
“In my own group I have children aged from eight to 14, all training together. Usually in sports you train as, say, under-12s, or under-14s. But those eight year olds train with the 14 year olds, and it creates such a lovely dynamic.
“The kids are so energetic and they love the sport. When you’ve got kids that will happily come in training for ten and a half hours a week that is so rewarding,” she says.
A past pupil of Brideswell NS and St Joseph's College, Summerhill, Elisha has been teaching in the Marist for the last three years. Her diploma in education is in teaching music and geography, and she also went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in special educational needs.
Most of her timetable is now centred on learning support but she also teaches music and geography.
“I’ve got a nice little dynamic there in that I still have the music and geography but I’m supporting the lads that are finding it a little bit tough educationally. I thoroughly enjoy the job.
“Dad has been (in the Marist) since he was 21 – he has never taught anywhere else – and we were half-reared there. I have taught in other schools but the Marist is like home. It’s your comfort zone.”
She has also worked in Sean's Bar “on and off, for years” and still pitches in behind the bar on occasion.
It gets particularly busy in Sean's from 10pm each night, but Elisha enjoys chatting to customers earlier in the evening.
“I’m usually at the front bar where the regulars and the tourists would be. You get that little bit of time, from around 8 to 10, where you can chat to people and I love that.
“It is such a social job and I spend so much time with teenage boys and young girls that having the interaction with my own age group can be refreshing at times!”
Outside of work and gymnastics, Elisha enjoys meeting friends for coffee, doing CrossFit training with Martin Hickey's CrossFit Cú Chulainn in Monksland, and swimming in the Athlone Regional Sports Centre.
“I have a niece, Lottie, who’s two, and I love to pop out and see what she’s up to as well,” she smiles.