Inspiring the future: Liz O’Connor
Learning through mistakes is vital.
While mistakes don’t necessarily define a person, they can provide rich soil and lifeblood for growth and education.
Liz O’Connor, or Hanley as she was known before getting married, is a real believer in having no regrets and growing through mistakes.
“There is no clear path through life,” Liz says.
“You learn as you go.
“I always tell my kids, don’t have any regrets in life because ultimately, you learn from them and they can make you what you are today.
“I try to tell them that as long as they give something a good shot, then there is absolutely nothing to worry about.”
Growing up in Kilnamanagh, Liz attended St Kilian’s National School.
“I was fairly tame in school, it was only when I left that I went a bit… wild,” Liz says with a chuckle.
“I did what I was told and didn’t question authority at all really.
“If you were to look back at my report cards, they all say ‘Liz is not achieving her potential’. It wasn’t that I was a trouble maker or disruptive in class or anything. I just didn’t apply myself and wasn’t engaging really.
“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a paediatrician. But I didn’t apply myself to that idea. I do try tell my kids now to do what you can when you’re in school so that you can give yourself the best opportunities in life. That time in school sets out the stall for your life.”
It was during Liz’s time in Assumption Secondary School in Walkinstown that she became more engrossed in studying.
With a love of the sciences, Liz studied chemistry, biology and physics for her Leaving Certificate.
For many, the goal is to reach college.
It can be a massive change going from the more hands-on nurturing environment of primary and secondary level education to third level, where the responsibility to learn falls right in a student’s lap.
Having all of this independence and less structure can provide a hard kick of reality to the gut, and in Liz’s case, it was both a benefit and a burden.
While the Kilnamanagh native revelled in the idea of structuring her own days, it became an issue.
“When I did the Leaving Cert for the first time, I didn’t get the points that I wanted,” Liz admits.
“I was applying for science across the board when it came time to start looking at college.
“I didn’t fail anything, but I didn’t get what I needed.
“I went to Greenhills College to repeat it and I got into IT Tallaght then to study science.
“They started the course off at beginner level because people are only new to it when they start.
“I thought ‘this is great, I can take it handy’ because I had done the biology, physics, chemistry, german and honours maths in my Leaving – and I did absolutely nothing.
“First year went great, I was able to get through it with what I had.
“Got into second year and I realised that I was actually behind, I couldn’t catch up and left then.
“At that time, after two-years you got a cert, three a diploma and after four then you got your degree.
“I ended up not even getting the cert.
“I went from being very studious to an absolute washout pretty quickly.
“At that time, I wasn’t all that bothered with it. I made a great group of friends during it, there was about 10 of us and I was off living the high life.
“We were doing a lot of lab work and I had kind of decided that I didn’t want to work in a lab – don’t get me wrong though, science isn’t all working in a lab, there is plenty more to it.
“So I wasn’t too upset with it.”
Utilising this new found free-time, Liz started to expand her horizons by jetting off to different countries for extended periods of time.
She spent a summer in Munich and at one stage, flew to Greece for what was supposed to be a trip lasting only a few weeks.
“I went for a couple of weeks and came back home eight months later, went to Israel on my way back and landed in Ireland up to my eyes in debt,” Liz says.
“When I went to Greece, I was 14.5 stone – I ended up putting on loads of weight.
“I came home to get my life together.”
In the intervening years, Liz discovered a newfound passion for fitness and took up Holistic Health Studies in Pearse College before studying Sports Therapy in Crumlin College.
After that, she rounded out her studies with a Wolverhampton University College accredited degree in Rehabilitation Studies – a form of rehab through exercise.
While in Wolves, in the UK, Liz worked in a gym and upon returning to Ireland picked up a position in Westpark Fitness as a fitness instructor.
“A few of us there decided that we would do a triathlon in Chicago,” explains Liz.
“The race we were doing was in August of 2002 and it was essentially for charity.
“We raised €16,000 between the four of us to get over there and we were so involved in the fundraising side of things that at one stage I realised, ‘we better actually start training to do this’.
“It was Olympic distance triathlon – so you do a 1,500m swim, 40k cycle and 10k run then at the end.
“I only learned how to swim at that time.
“You’re supposed to do a few smaller ones first and I remember doing my first one in Skerries [in preparation].
“I was on my husband’s normal bike for it. I did a horrible swim so I tried to catch up when I got on the bike. I ended up absolutely killing my legs – everyone knows your supposed to save your legs for the run.
“So when I got off the bike, my legs were gone. You learn as you go.”
After racing in Chicago that year, the crew were bit by the Triathlon bug and started to look for a triathlon club that suited their needs.
Ultimately, they realised that there was none in the locality.
In June 2003, Liz O’Connor along with Michael Rosney, David Adams and Alison Benson founded Pulse Triathlon Club and returned to Chicago that August officially debuting the club.
Today, Pulse is one of the largest triathlon clubs in the whole country and stands at 300 members, which includes upwards of 80 children.
While continuing her triathlon training over the years, Liz worked in The Echo for a brief period before coming across an application for Dublin Fire Brigade.
The Templeogue resident’s application was successful and she started as a firefighter in 2005.
Speaking about the skills of firefighting and the immense job satisfaction, Liz says: “In general, on the engines, all of the firefighters that arrive are fully qualified paramedics.
“Dublin is a fire-based EMS (Emergency Medical Service) and we’re very fortunate in that sense, it’s one of the few to have it.
“There are downsides to it [being a firefighter], but on the whole, it is great to help people.
“The sense of comradery is massive and the sense of achievement that you get from the job is absolutely overwhelming.
“Even when you’re not in work, I know that my skills as a firefighter or paramedic will stand by me and there are times when I would have used them.
“Even if I’m not in work and there is a situation, the fact that I’m a firefighter – and I don’t want this to come across wrong – it brings a sense of calm to the situation, even if I don’t have a clue what is going on.”
Firefighters are exposed to a lot of trauma and emotion just through doing their job.
“When you’re dealing with people, you’re with them when they’re at their most vulnerable and you’d hope that you’re doing you’re best for that person, making sure they’re being looked after at any case,” Liz explains.
“What comes after, it might be as simple as a conversation in the back of the fire engine on the way back from a case.
“You’d just have a debrief, or a chat, it could be that simple.
“Certain things will affect people differently, it depends on what stage you’re at in life, what’s happening in your personal life and so on.”
A trained firefighter and paramedic attached to the Dolphins Barn Fire Station, Liz is currently an Assistant Fire Advisor in the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management.
A few years ago, Liz completed a Masters of Science in Emergency Management.
While Liz’s first crack at third-level education did not necessarily work out, she still gained invaluable experience from it that provided the steady platform to build from.
Making mistakes or taking a misstep is not necessarily a bad thing. It can provide the necessary knowledge to enable one to alter the plan of action, and go again.