I often wonder how I ended up in such a sporty family. When I go to sporting events, I am just in it for the snacks. But in the last few years, sports have provided some amazing memories for our family, especially my in-laws, Kevin and Ann. They live next to the family home in Roscommon and were blessed with five daughters.
That fact was a bit daunting to my brother-in-law Kevin, who has worked a sheep and cattle farm for the last thirty years. Farm help arrived in the form of two of his daughters, Aoife (Eefah) and Lisa. Working on the farm made two little girls into two strong, fit young ladies.
Around a month ago, the same two young ladies boarded a plane, along with a dozen or so amateur boxers, as members of the Irish Boxing Association. They were on their way to fight in the World Boxing Competition, the toughest of the global competitions, which was held in Istanbul Turkey this year.
Aoife and Lisa made it into the Irish national spotlight from the get-go. Not only did they train together, but Aoife, the older of the two, had already shown herself a formidable competitor on the world stage.
How did this happen in a small rural community? The popularity of the Irish boxing phenomenon Katie Taylor spurred interest and investment in ladies boxing. A club opened auspiciously in the girls’ hometown, Castlerea.
All five girls have been in the boxing gym to work out; it’s about the only game in town. Aoife and Lisa’s natural athleticism, along with commitment and determination, made them standouts at the club. It was on to bigger things for them.
Having two of them in the recent competition was really bad for the blood pressure for all of us. Bout times were strange due to the international location. The fights were streamed live on YouTube, but they are hours long and the individual matches are short.
So, we watched with nerves jangling as Aoife and Lisa fought for position. Unfortunately for Aoife, her first fight was against the reigning world champion, and things did not go her way.
We saw it coming with Lisa. There is a determined set to this normally sweet girl that lets you know that no matter how sweet the smile, she is going to do what she set out to do. When she boxes, she boxes and when she plays football, she plays football.
I remember being in Ireland when she was playing Gaelic football and a ref called her over and asked her to remove her glasses so that she didn’t get hurt. She replied, “You mind your business and I’ll mind mine.” That’s our girl, she takes no prisoners. So, when she decided to add boxing to her repertoire, I knew that the world better get ready.
By repertoire I mean that the girl is an athlete. She led a Roscommon high school age team to a national victory by scoring a buzzer beating basket. Watch her play anything, and it is easy to see that she does well in pressure situations.
Her first passion was Gaelic football. In Ireland, there is a serious women’s league that plays inter-county football and Lisa is on the Roscommon team. Lately, at least in that sport, her athleticism has worked against her. She is so visibly strong and fit that she has drawn some, we’ll call them interesting, referee calls on the pitch.
About five years ago, she decided that she would train seriously for boxing. Her sister Aoife went to the Olympics in China last summer and Lisa, along with fellow boxing golden girl Amy Broadhurst, were allowed to accompany her and train with the Irish team up until the competition officially started. That was a very inspirational trip for Lisa, and she set equally inspired goals.
Instanbul started great for Lisa when she won by unanimous decision in her first fight. Her second fight was on May 13, her twentieth birthday, and it was another win. That day, she fought immediately after her friend and teammate Amy, who was also victorious.
Again, I am no expert and certainly not unbiased, but Lisa is fun to watch in the ring. She is very light on her feet and has stamina to burn. Amy is smaller and grittier in the ring, but also a great fighter. The whole family were sick with nerves on the day of the last fight, the one for the gold medal, on May 19.
The competition was tough, judging is subjective at times and the Ireland ladies had only won the world gold medal twice, in the forms of Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington. Adding to the stress, Lisa was fighting the reigning champion Helena Panguane from Mozambique.
First up was Amy’s fight. She is older than Lisa and has been training for this moment since she was little. She is small but tough and it was a tough fight, but she pulled it off and won! Immediately after her victory, Lisa walked into the ring. This was easily her hardest fight. She was taller, younger and much less experienced than her opponent, Helena. There was a lot of back and forth in the competition, but Lisa maintained her speed and grace throughout. Somewhere in the last round, I saw her chin set and I saw the end in sight for Helena. Another trait of Lisa’s is that she is stubborn. She prevailed and won the match in a 4-1 decision.
Her victory jump was about four feet in the air. It was wonderful to see Amy and Lisa on stage with their gold medals, just beaming, and the tricolor behind them. Lisa’s sister Aoife was there cheering them on the entire time.
There were homecoming activities galore! The ladies have had ceremonies and parades. Amy and Lisa were on the Irish “Late, Late Show” two weeks ago. It is amazing to watch, especially seeing the stalwart humility and grace of all three ladies. I can tell you that Lisa is not done, not by a long shot. She was back on the football pitch this past weekend and scored three points, helping the Roscommon team to victory over the Kildare Lillywhites. She has some football goals that she is working on too.
Little tolerance is given to the braggart in Ireland. Whether it is a fear of tempting fate or a general distaste for self-praise, you just shouldn’t do it.
Will success spoil Lisa O’Rourke? We certainly hope not and have every reason to suspect that we are right. Like many a good Irishman, her father Kevin has always been the leveler of the family, never letting anyone’s balloon get too high; he is waiting and watching with a long sharp pin. As flashbulbs popped, Kevin told a crowd that if they wanted to talk to the girls, “they could come to the bog and spend a few hours. That’s where the girls will be next week.”
Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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