“All of a sudden we’re the only white people in the area and the people, even though it’s their first time, we knew they were just so generous, and so grateful. And I just found this whole new appreciation for society, for what I have back at home and for just family life in general. And it took away any worries that we have in college or to do with sport or even injuries, all of a sudden, that just vanished when you have a family around, just like sharing their love and sharing whatever food they have with you. And I went with a whole bag and I came back with nothing because you can’t give these people enough things and I was actually [??? 0:46] leaving Thailand because I just didn’t want to leave these people, these people that made us feel so at home.”
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JESSE: Today on the Smart Athlete Podcast, my guest does not have a long list of credentials, but that is underlying the fact that she actually has done a fair amount of things. I think she’s just a little bit modest. She is a biomedical engineer, and races triathlon competitively. Welcome to the show, Fiona Magan.
FIONA: Thank you very much, Jesse. Glad to be here.
JESSE: So, you’re telling me you’re you’re spending time in France right now. So, this is another episode where we’re shooting across the planet, which is nice. You were trying to show me the scenic area you’re in off the balcony earlier, but we had a bad connection. Before we were getting going, you’re saying you hadn’t been there in two years. So, what was it like coming back?
FIONA: Oh it’s incredible because we grew up here. Basically, every summer we went here as kids. So, we’re in Brittany in a little town called [??? 2:17], which very near to the -, which is like a big harbor. So, kind of the northwest of France. So, Brittany is kind of a Celtic area. So, there’s actually some, and traditions are quite similar to Irish traditions or Irish culture because they have their own language, Breton, and they have their own dress styles and dances and food and things. So, it’s a really, really French area. And it wouldn’t be as touristy as like South France. And I’m lucky enough that a lot of my family are from here.
And so my grandparents have a holiday apartment here that we spent. So, they’ve had this apartment here for the last 50 years. And my mom and her sisters would spend time here, and then we spend time here as kids. And so we got to know like all the other kind of families on the beach, we always met up every summer I came here and I really enjoyed it. And so I haven’t been here for the last two years. So, it’s so comforting to come back. I feel like you’re just stepping back into your own home house again. And it’s so nice and relaxing. And all you have to worry about is getting the – every morning.
JESSE: So, I mean, was that where you spent all your holidays or did you go anyplace else?
FIONA: No. So, we used to come here for about two weeks. And then my parents were big into camping. So, my parents are big hippies really. So, when we were I think I was like nine and dad decided to convert a big red Barry’s tea van. So, Barry’s tea is a very popular tea in Ireland. And they’ll know, you know, what I’m saying is it’s a big red box, the tea box. So, we got a big red van. So, it was the Barry’s tea van. And he converted it into a camp – I have two little sisters. And from then on, we went camping every summer. We take the ferry over, come here for two weeks, and then travel all around France, and with the bikes and everything packed up.
And so yeah, I know [??? 4:23] we kind of sometimes we went into Italy and Switzerland, but mainly in France. Because my mom is French she kind of she thought it’d be a good deal. She lived in Ireland for almost a year and then we’d spend two months in France every year. And dad loved it because dad’s a big triathlete as well, so he only loves coming to France with bike and he leaves for the day do his training. And so yeah, it was I think it was good for all for everyone, and we enjoyed it as well. Not the sport part, we enjoyed making friends, drinking French wine, running away.
JESSE: I mean, a lot of it seems like cultural differences because kids here will ride bikes, but I don’t think they ride bikes like you would in France, or I don’t know how the weather is in Ireland, whether it’s conducive to riding bikes all the time.
FIONA: Yeah. No, you wouldn’t– I personally, as a child, I hated cycling because our parents would make us go on like family trips. Like all of us on the bikes, all the helmets on, the helmets were not cute. I was like, “Mom, I’m not wearing this big ugly thing on my head.” And so back in Ireland, I never went cycling because my friends would see me with the helmet on like, that’s not cool. And then in France, I would go because I was like, hey, we’re in France. I’ll go but like, we’re not going for more than an hour. And yeah, the weather in France is perfect for cycling, especially, we would camp a lot around the Alps. And so you’d cycle around like lake and see just some gorgeous, like views and scenery, which I didn’t appreciate at all at the time.
But I can imagine and when I’ve been back now as an adult, I guess and yeah, it’s absolutely, it’s heaven like go inside around there. You just want to go out with your bike every day. But I think yeah, I think cycling is definitely more popular in France and it will be in Ireland. In Ireland, it does rain a lot and for kids. But as in that being said, in the last few years, actual road cycling has become so popular. I mean, it’s a hobby now. Like my mom has taken off like proper road cycling. And she would never have done so. She only took up sports when she was like 45. So, she’s taken up cycling now for the last few years and it’s just amazing to see big groups out. Instead of going to mass on Sundays, people are out on their bikes. So, there’s a change in culture as well, that’s occurring in Ireland that I think France had any way before.
JESSE: Yeah. I was like envision, just masses like everybody, obviously this is oversimplified. But I always envisioned just Europe as a whole because we’re dumb in America, and all our states are one big country. So, we just think of Europe as a big thing, even though it’s not, and just everybody cycling. Because I’ll watch the tour, and I’ll watch some other grand tours, besides the Tour de France. And you have guys that are from all these different countries. So, just imagine, everybody cycles everywhere. And then there’s some people that are just really really good at it.
FIONA: Yeah. No, and that’s a good– I mean, Germany as well would be very big in cycling and all the Central Europe countries. But Ireland is still quite, it’s between England and America. So, we’re very much influenced by America, as well. So, I think even the way we eat and things like that are quite similar to the UK and America. But the thing is, in Ireland our two main sports are hurling and football, which are National Sports. And so when you grow up as a child, you’re either doing one or the other, or both. And so it’s very rare to get into cycling or competitive swimming or running. It’s like, no, you’re doing one of these two field sports.
So, my community was very popular, like football was what my village did. So, Gaelic football. The Gaelic football is a mixture of like volleyball, basketball, rugby, soccer, it’s played with what looks like a football or soccer ball, what you know as soccer. It’s played on a pitch the size of a rugby pitch. And you’ve got two gold posts and the net. If you hit the ball in the net, that’s three points. If you hit the ball over the post, that’s one point. And it’s played by hand. It’s very much, I guess it’s a mix of American football as well and Australian Football, if you’ve ever seen that too.
JESSE: I was actually gonna say like [??? 8:57]. But yeah.
FIONA: So, you can hand pass it, you can foot pass, or kick pass, you can run four steps with the ball, but you have to either bounce it or kick it to yourself. And that’s called like soloing. So, if you want to run up the field of the ball, you have to kick it to yourself every like four steps. And then you can pass it on. So, like football is quite a physical sport, it’s quite fast. It’s played, I think it’s like 35-40 minutes a side, and then you’ve got 15 players. And then hurling is played at sticks. So, it’s like hockey in the air is how I describe it. And it’s the fastest field sport in the world. And that’s really incredible, skillful sport to watch. And you play with a ball called a sliotar, which looks like the size of a tennis ball but a little bit heavier. And you pass that ball around using your hurley, which is like, guess your hockey stick in the air, but it’s a wooden stick. And so yeah, so when you grow up here, you’re being one of the two sports.
So, I got into football, I guess around, I was like nine. And I played that all the way up until I was 19. And, and I mean, I love football, that was such a team sport. I played with myself and then I played with my county, which is like the next level. And you don’t really go past that because you don’t play for Ireland because no one else really in the world plays football. Actually, that being said, a few American teams do come over sometimes, and a few European teams, but you replay a county level. And so that’s our two main national sports.
So, I think when it comes back to like cycling, and for me, they were kind of unusual sports to take off as a child. And running, cross country running would have been popular, and then competitive swimming. But that being said, we were from a rural village, so we didn’t have like a competitive pool nearby. The nearest pool was probably like 30 minutes away. So, that’s not convenient to do that. So, pick up the next sport that’s around you. The same with the running clubs, they were kind of further in the city, and so you got your sport by running around the cotton fields, and playing football.
JESSE: Yeah, I mean, I think a pool is like the biggest thing that holds a lot of people back from being able to do triathlon. It’s like, okay, you can get like a cheap bike or just a bike, you’d ride around not just a competitive bike, and you can compete. But if you don’t have the ability to get in and swim then that makes it very difficult. And most people don’t live in a climate where you can just like go to the lake and swim all year. So, yeah, I think that’s the thing more so than like triathlon’s known for being as expensive as you want it to be, but money aside, because you can get into a cheaply, a pair of running shoes and a cheap bike. Yeah, if you don’t have that pool, then you’re sunk to start.
FIONA: Yeah. But I think even as a child, I don’t think triathlon even comes into your language. That being said, now I see a lot of young people getting into it. I think it’s gotten so popular and big in the young generation or like kids in school, and they’re bringing in lots of kids programs. But like I had never– if it wasn’t for my dad doing triathlons, I would never have heard of it. And that being said, dad doing triathlons was like we used to just get– it was like all skin like us getting dragged along to competitions. I never saw it as something that I would ever do. And then it was more like, well, this is dad’s thing. It was like his job. It was like that’s dad’s second job. It was just normal.
You know, we had all his bikes and the garbage and I’ll never forget we’d go with him to some competitions, and we’d help maybe give out the water. And like my little sister, we are the [??? 12:57] triathlon called Head of the West, which is it’s an Olympic triathlon in the West of Ireland. And it’s quite a tough one because the sea, the open water swim you run off from the beach. And it’s an amazing race to do but it’s quite haily and it’s quite rugged. It’s quite a famous one, but I’ll never forget, we were given out water and my little sister, I’d say she was only like five or six. But she was giving out the water and a triathlete came by, kind of hit off the water bottle, and she just went flying. And we were just like, “Whoa, track me there scary.” Like we were just–
JESSE: Was he running or on the bike?
FIONA: No, he was running. Yeah. Like you didn’t even see– Like my sister was like so tiny and not his fault at all, but she just went like flying. And we were like, oh, yeah, no triathletes are vicious. You know, we just like we just used to be so shy, like dad would bring the tree of us along to like, different races. And we do everything to not be associated with the triathlon. We’d go off and read our books or do our makeup or our hair. But doing sport or there was some like kids pro kind of many races on sometimes. And like, there was no way we were doing them we’re like, no that’s not cool.
JESSE: So, I mean, how do you make the transition because you go from absolutely no way. Like, that’s dad’s weird job. To okay, now I’m doing this, I’m pretty competitive?
FIONA: The other thing we or mom would probably talk about it’s like whenever any of us got angry, or it’s like, do a dad on us go for a cycle. You’ll come back better. When I got into college, I started I kind of stopped playing football because I moved away up to – and I wasn’t with my home team anymore. And I didn’t really want to go into a new team with a new bunch of girls because I was so close to my girls back at home. And so I started just the first year in college just kind of running just to kind of keep fit and then going into the pool and doing a few laps. And you know, I don’t– I mean, it’s not like never swam before, I did swim a little bit when I was a kid and like, did some life saving courses. And mom got us to swim just so that we know what to do from – breaststroke and things like that. And then after that first year in college, and oh, I sat in spin classes, and I thought they were really fun.
And then dad then one weekend was like, “Oh, you should come do a triathlon.” And I was like, I don’t know. And he was like, oh, no, you…please come. Like, you can have my old bike. And I was like, might as well. I just had nothing else to do that weekend. And so I did the triathlon and didn’t really enjoy us. I was like, yeah, this is fine, this is fun, just did it for this– But it was just dead after it. I was like this is torture, but then kind of there was something in me that I was like, but I know it can be better. Because I can be better at running and I haven’t really swam that much.
So, I can do a few more lengths in the pool instead of doing 10 lengths every time if you’re 20. You know, so you gotta kind of like [??? 16:16] post triathlon notion, PTN disorder, where it’s like, oh, now I – kind of mountain after that, you know, that kind of way. It’s like I can get better at this. And then we went skiing for a week as a family. And I was snowboarding and I tore my key [??? 16:32]. So, after all that, like hype up and that kind of brought me down. I was like, oh, no. So, I was injured for like, I’d say three-four months. And so then I started like doing a bit of cycling and more swimming because I couldn’t really run on it. And that was the summer, that was the end of second year college and that was the summer I went to Thailand then backpacking.
So, I was just like, okay, fine, just going to give sport a break now. And we went backpacking with my friend for about two months to Thailand, we flew into Bangkok, we went all up into the North Chiang Mai. And into the South kind of did a kind of volunteering on organic farms for like, three quarters of it. And then the other quarter, we were kind of I guess holidaying around and doing kind of the touristy things. But that was really fun and then I came back, and that’s when I got my scholarship to go to America. And I came to Georgia Tech, that was like end of August. And at that point, I think I’d done a lot of like, in Thailand you’re kind of in a rural area, in a completely different part of the world that I’d never been. And you’re seeing things I like I’ve never seen before you seeing tiny little communities, you’re getting lost, like we rented motorbikes and we got lost for like, a couple of days in the mountains, where we like we’d never find civilization again.
JESSE: Nobody speaks– I mean– [crosstalk] English, our French, in your case, since you know both.
FIONA: Yeah. No, I was always used to being in a country exactly where I could speak the language. So, I kind of took that for granted. And here, all of a sudden we’re the only white people in the area and the people, even though it’s their first time, we knew they were just so generous, and so grateful. And I just found this whole new appreciation for society, for what I have back at home and for just family life in general. And it took away any worries that we have in college or to do with sport or even injuries, all of a sudden, that just vanished when you have a family around, just like sharing their love and sharing whatever food they have with you. And I went with a whole bag and I came back with nothing because you can’t give these people enough things and I was actually [??? 19:01] leaving Thailand because I just didn’t want to leave these people, these people that made us feel so at home.
But wolfing, what you do is it’s working on organic farms, you work as a volunteer and in return, they give you their food and their accommodation. And we learned so much like we learned how to grow bamboo, and we built like these little huts for their farm, for their animals and all these things and the kids were just like, so cute. They were kind of climbing up on top of you and it was just the two of us, me and my friend Leon. And so like we were– it’s not like we’re big strong men be able to like move bricks for like the whole week. But we were doing every little thing like a gardening and one of the – gave us these little bracelets and she said like these are like your safety bracelets, and I didn’t take it off for like two years.
So, yeah, I think that summer changed me quite a bit and I came home and had the scholarship for America. And I was like all this is fiction. It just didn’t feel real. For me, real life is when you’re surrounded by your friends and family. And it’s like, I felt like I’m running away again going to America and trying to just have something on paper maybe because for me America was still not real. It was like something I’d see on the TV. And yeah, we went to a week when I was younger when we stayed at a farm. But for me America is what I’d see in the movies. I was like is this even a real place? So, I went to American it’s definitely like the best things I’ve ever done.