Science geek with a passion for food and gadgets

I see the body as a machine: Rugby international Jamie Heaslip talks science

Jamie Heaslip, ambassador for Science Week, which takes place from November 9th to 15th. More than 800 events will take place around the country with details at scienceweek.ie. Photograph: Alan Betson

Jamie Heaslip, ambassador for Science Week, which takes place from November 9th to 15th. More than 800 events will take place around the country with details at scienceweek.ie. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Science and technology nearly took Leinster rugby captain Jamie Heaslip away from the great game, but it remains central to his life. International rugby player. Restaurateur. Tech investor. There’s so much that you could do outside of sport. So why did you decide to become an ambassador for Science Week? Because I love science. I always did, and I was hugely interested in biology, maths and physics. Ever since I was young, I was into Lego, and that grew to an almost unhealthy fascination with Lego Technic. I built anything I could get my hands on, relishing the methodical processes of figuring out a problem and finding a solution. It’s why I studied Medical Mechanical Engineering in Dublin City University: it was a degree that touched on all the areas I like.

Does your interest in science and engineering coincide in any way with your work in rugby? I see the body as a machine: you put something in – whether food or training – and you get something out, a result. There is always a process behind the body and a reason for what it does. Medical engineering has made me, in some ways, see the body as a construction. I am always asking questions during our strength and conditioning training, or inquiring with the team’s nutritionists. It is science that allows us to question these things and to get a clear answer. I don’t like grey areas, and I don’t think that there should be many grey areas in sport, because it’s either win or lose. You have to understand all the factors that can help you win. Science helps do this. How do science and technology help improve your game? I see technology peppered throughout sport. When I arrive in the morning for training with the Leinster squad, the first thing we do is a muscular-skeletal review. On the iPad, we fill out a series of questions on how we feel and how we slept. We carry out around five motion tests, and the results are all fed into an iPad. This generates an algorithm and lets us know the likelihood of getting injured. When we carry out the team review, there is a video with four angles of the game on the iPads, and we can look at our training from any given day. Another technology we are using is GPS trackers which measure how far and how fast we ran, and our impact. There are various percentages which the trackers can measure, and this helps the players and the team to improve our performance.

You have also become a tech investor. What has driven this? A few years ago, I invested in

the Dublin restaurant Bear, which is part of the Jo’Burger restaurant empire. I’m passionate about really good food and how it plays a role in social life, communities and health. Then, an opportunity arose to bring together my love of food with my love of technology. I became involved in the website Lovin’ Dublin, which was founded by Niall Harbison (tech entrepreneur, social media guru and former chef). It’s all about food and life in Dublin, and still in its infancy; we would like it to be bigger and we believe it will be.

I know that there is limited time in which I will have opportunities to make new connections. Once the rugby career finishes, a lot of doors will close. My big fear of life after rugby is doing something for the money. Right now, I am lucky to have a job that I am really passionate about – I want to have that same passion in new ventures.

Do you feel your training in science and engineering has opened up possibilities for you? Absolutely. Engineering and science is a great launch pad. On your CV it shows you can learn something, be methodical, see a problem, apply a solution and get a result. Like me, you may not end up in the exact industry you trained for, but it is a great launch pad for moving forward.

Finally, as a big science and tech fan, what is your favourite gadget? I’m a big gadget geek and have probably bought too many of them. But my favourite device, without doubt, is my iPhone; I just upgraded to the iPhone6. Thinking back to 2001, when I left school, consumer phones were just getting into people’s hands and were so basic. Smartphones have changed the game.

Apps, especially sports apps, are a big part of my life now. In the changing room before or after the match, the lads are on Twitter, or posting on Instragram. Technology is great, but so pervasive. It is important to make sure you control it, not the other way around.

Jamie Heaslip will attend Curiosity Lab, which kicks off Science Week on Saturday November 8th and Sunday November 9th and will transform Smock Alley, Temple Bar, Dublin into an engaging hub of science, play and technology for all ages.

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