Younger generation of Irish athletes ready to seize the day in European competition
Athletics Column: Ian O’Riordan
Brian Gregan: competes in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia this weekend.
Sleeping out by the lake on Thursday night, next to the old boathouse and the sheltering Japanese Umbrella-pine, gently illuminated by the stars above and flickering candlelight, provided the essential setting to finish off Walden; or, Life in the Woods.
This was not some midsummer night’s dream. Certain books should only be read within the environment that created them, and Henry David Thoreau’s beautifully transcendental tale is no exception. It was also 168 years, to the day, since Thoreau left his parents’ home in Massachusetts and built himself a small cabin beside Walden Pond, where he immediately declared and celebrated his own independence, and spent the next two years and two months learning to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”, and not, “when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”.
It’s also one of those books that inspired every generation that followed, from Leo Tolstoy to Christopher McCandless, and several commercial spin-offs too, including the Dead Poets Society. Thoreau mightn’t have liked that film, but would have related to the circumstance, and particularly the Neil Perry character, and his tragic quest to avoid a life of quiet desperation.
The film’s catchphrase – carpe diem – is also perfectly in line with Thoreau’s thinking. Although what Horace originally meant by “seize the day” in his poem Odes is sometimes confused by the line that followed – quam minimum credula postero – or “trusting as little as possible in the next”. The day is there to be seized not because there is no future, or no point in trying to make the future better, but because there is no certainty in the next day, that sometimes the future just can’t be trusted, and nowhere is this more relevant than in the life of the young athlete.
It feels even more relevant now, because never before has this country been blossoming with so much exciting young athletic talent, across so many events.
Don’t just talk my word for it. Starting tomorrow in Kazan, Russia, then in Donetsk, Ukraine, then in Tampere, Finland, then in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and finally in Rieti, Italy, Ireland will be represented by 66 athletes in all five of the youth, underage and student championships being staged this month, and if they don’t come home with a small bagful of medals then something will have gone wrong.
There are some people who still buy into the fraudulent and shameful claim that only Olympic medals count for anything these days, and good luck to them, but for the 66 athletes selected to represent Ireland this month, this is the time to carpe diem. Many of them, though still so young, have already come a considerable distance, and no matter what the future actually holds they all deserve to be celebrated for the individual discipline and elevation of life that Thoreau so rightly admired.