HIS parents could barely cross the road in Westport without being stopped last December.
Aichlinn O’Reilly had just made local and national headlines by becoming the first Irish man in history ever to complete an ironman.
To those who aren’t familiar, that involves a 3.9-kilometre swim, a 112-mile bicycle and a 26.22-mile marathon.
The 28-year-old went through 226 kilometres of hell on water, wheels and earth after completing the gruelling Busselton Ironman in the sweltering Western Australian sun.
He did it in less than eight hours.
Not only that, his time of 7.59.04 smashed the previous Irish record of 8.07.37, set by Bryan McCrystal in Challenge Roth in 2018.
He had only moved to Australia seven weeks previously. Those seven weeks were dedicated entirely to preparing for Busselton, where the elite competitors are virtually all full-time athletes.
“Crossing the line I was so tired. It’s incomprehensible how much it takes out of me. I was just drained,” recalls Aichlinn in an interview with The Mayo News.
“I could barely walk so I got carried to a chair by volunteers and then met my girlfriend, Meabh, and then two of my friends, Jack and Anna, who were supporting me. I got a bit emotional. I couldn’t really hold myself together.”
Swimming since he was a gasúir, he took to the water like a cygnet.
“I can’t remember not swimming,” says Aichlinn (pronounced ‘ee-clin’).
“I think I was like four or five and I was able to do like one length in the pool, no bother, by myself.”
Aichlinn O’Reilly pictured during the Busselton ironman
By his mid-teens, Aichlinn was among the top 20 athletes in the country at his age.
Through his good mate, Con Doherty, he added two strings to his athletic bow when he joined Westport Triathlon Club. His level of running and bike training wasn’t anything hectic, but he still went to test himself at one of Triathlon Ireland’s talent identification days.
The strength of his swim alone gained him enough points to be drafted into a high performance squad with its sights firmly set on the Olympics – he even got to run a few international races.
Then he went to UL to study sport science, which came with a certain degree of overindulgence.
“Looking back now I wasn’t training to better my abilities, I still had a social out, I still went out – I went out too much for trying to be a high performance athlete.
“I didn’t go out as much as a normal college person but trying to be a high performance athlete I was definitely too much into the aul night clubs and the drinking,” he chuckles before adding: “but like I think it worked in my favour because I wasn’t training flat out. I didn’t get burned out.
“If I went all-out in triathlon I would either have been successful or I would have given up the sport completely because it was too much. I would have seen that with so many people around college age.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like a man destined to become the fastest ironman in Irish history, does it?
At one point, he was barely even able to stand up, let alone run 226 kilometres in under eight hours.
“I graduated in 2018 and in the summer of 2018 I got really sick after racing, I got really, really bad heat stroke in a race in Wicklow… That put me out of training for about four weeks,” Aichlinn recalls.
“I couldn’t do anything. If I tried training I’d see stars…I was basically lying on the couch for ten hours a day, sleeping for 14 hours a day. That sort of set my race plans back and I didn’t get the results I wanted in 2018. So I was like, I’ll go and do something different.”
So he decided to head south with some friends to New Zealand for some adventure.
“It was either; move to New Zealand or get a real job – and I didn’t fancy getting a real job – so New Zealand was the best option,” Achlinn adds.
Life in Middle Earth was far from glamorous.
He picked fruit, cleaned windows, pruned kiwis, worked in McDonalds, and did various other jobs to earn a crust.
He kept up the training though; placing ninth in one national race.
Impressive, but nothing like his earth-shattering escapades of December 2023.
In early 2020, he moved north to Adelaide.
Covid-19 came three days later, and Australia was shut down.
“I was like, ‘S**t, I have like no job here.’ I am living with savings, I am living in a hostel, I don’t really know anyone in Adelaide. The only person I knew in Adelaide was the person who agreed to coach me. I was like, ‘S**t I just need to go home’.”
He spent the long, lonely lockdown days with his Dad in North Mayo, running twice a day and anything up to 120 kilometres a week.
Before long, his fitness levels were ‘back to 2018 levels’.
In October 2023, he decided to have another go at life Down Under.
Off he went with his girlfriend, Meabh, and for seven weeks he did nothing but train for Busselton.
By the time it was done, the man who keeled over with heatstroke in the Wicklow hills had made Irish history.
At the moment, he spends his days cleaning windows in 37 degree heat, running three days a week, swimming three days a week and biking four to five days a week.
He’s hoping to get a sponsor so he can train full-time towards the ultimate goal of competing at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii – ‘Kona’ as his fellow athletic freaks call it.
“It’s good fun. It’s way better than drinking pints,” Aichlinn smiles.
“Drinking pints was good fun but this is a different level altogether.”
So is Aichlinn O’Reilly.