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NIALL O'ROURKE | INTERVIEW

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WHO IS NIALL O’ROURKE?

Random fact… I get through every day with a half of 1 kidney and have done so since about 3 months old. I am Irish born and raised, with my Mom, Dad and sister.

Dad passed away when I was 20, which meant I had to grow up quickly. When the GFC took hold in early 2011, opportunities in Ireland were limited and so I made the decision to move to Oz. Obviously it was a big decision to leave my family behind, therefore I was determined to make it work in Australia! Luckily, I was picked up by a powerful female leader who trained me well and gave me an opportunity that opened the door to recruitment for me, and the rest is history I guess.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR ROLE AT SHARP & CARTER?

I recruit across Technology, Projects and Emerging Digital Tech. I run the function alongside my business partner Ash Walsh who basically keeps me in line and allows me to be who I am every day with work. The best part about my role is that I get to meet so many people from all walks of life every day. I can safely say that no day in recruitment is the same - while it is a challenging role and sometimes high pressured, at the end of the day it is incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.

WHAT INTERESTS AND HOBBIES DO YOU HAVE OUTSIDE OF WORK?

I am a big fan of sports of any kind - although I still haven’t been to an AFL game!!! I also started reading in the last 6 months as well… previously I would always get distracted and never finish a book, but now I read sport/motivation books which hold my focus.

Running has also been a hobby of mine previously. After my Dad passed away, I decided to run a marathon to raise money for the hospice in which he spent his last days. After a number of years of running I lost the passion, but in the end, it was my knees that called absolute time and said enough is enough - and that was the end of my running!


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WE UNDERSTAND YOU ARE PLANNING TO SWIM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL, CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THIS, AND WHAT YOU ARE HOPING TO ACHIEVE?

Recruitment is a fast-paced environment that can be stressful. I often felt this stress and found myself on-edge, until one day I stumbled across an article about Justin Hanby - a successful criminal lawyer in Sydney who focused on swimming to help him through his mental health issues. After I tried it for myself, I realised the power of swimming on the mental state and how it can be a form of meditation.

This was the start of my meditation in the water!! Following this, I started ocean swimming and after a Summer of ocean races I decided to up the ante and aim for a 10KM marathon swim. Lots of people have hobbies or sport interests and look up to the elite names in that area wondering what it would be like to meet them or be them…. every day I train, I am surrounded by some the world’s greatest endurance oceans swimmers who are seen as the global elite (too many to name but you know who you are) for which I am very grateful. I realise I am lucky which keeps me motivated and more importantly grounded. It is a simple saying but if you surround yourself with people that inspire you, you won’t go too far wrong.

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Given how much swimming had assisted me with my mental health, I thought it would be great to use it as a medium to raise awareness and fundraise for Beyond Blue. After 5 months of training with a legend called Vlad, surrounded by a group of inspirational swimmers, I was ready… then I broke my shoulder and couldn’t swim. I felt I was fine but in actually fact I was having a mental breakdown and didn’t realise it… how could this happen to me? I felt I had let everyone down that had donated to the charity!! It wasn’t until someone called me out for saying I was OK when he knew there was no way in the world that I could be that I realised what state I was in. I think this is what drives me every day as I want to pay back everyone who invested time and effort in me.

The reason I decided to tackle the English Channel is because I wanted to do something that would have people ask, “Why would you do such a thing?” and I was also keen to test myself both mentally and physically over an extended period - in this case, 18 months.

Essentially - why I would do such a thing is to create awareness of mental health, but more importantly to get rid of the shocking stigma associated with it. This stigma stops people from feeling comfortable talking openly about their struggles, as they feel judged. If a mate was sick with a flu or a cold one would simply reach out and ask how they were…. but as soon as mental health comes into the equation everybody shuts down and finds it too awkward to discuss. This results in people suffering in silence with nowhere to turn.

With the long hours I have started to spend in the water, and the ultimate goal of the English Channel, I want to try and understand what it feels like to be alone with only my thoughts - and the water. I will have the option of putting my hand up and stopping - but what must it feel like for someone who is left with only their thoughts, and has no option of putting their hand up for help due to the potential judgement??

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In my career I get to spend lots of time with people… over the last couple of years, I have come across people who were suffering, and I had no idea what was going on beneath the surface. This was an eye opener for me and rather than just sit back and talk about how awful it was, I wanted to act on it and try to increase the awareness. But I didn’t want to just raise money, instead I wanted to donate awareness. Because really, the best donation I can make is to encourage and make it reality for someone to ask another person how they are feeling. I think the message will hit home better this way.

Another motivator is that the city where I am originally from (Limerick) has a really high suicide rate. So much so that there is now a team of volunteers who patrol the river bank every night, helping those in need who are about to try and end their suffering in the river. These volunteers are on Limerick Suicide Watch, and they – along with volunteer groups everywhere else around the world – do not get enough support from governments, and this needs to change. Many leaders talk about the issue but very few take any action!!!


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With an event like swimming the English Channel, you don’t turn up without any preparation. For the last couple of months and over the next 18 months I train a minimum 5 days per week. Midweek I wake at 4.40am, have a snack then make my way to the pool for a session with the man himself Vlad who runs Vladswim in Sydney. As part of the training and to keep focused I am also training towards big events in between.

These events allow me the opportunity to meet new people and tell them about the journey I am on and the goal I am trying to achieve. Lined up so far over the next few months are the following events:

  • Lake Burley Griffin 10KM Dec 2018 (I am actually writing this while I sit in the hotel room in Canberra stuffing my face the night before)

  • Balmoral 10KM Dec 2018

  • Rottnest Channel Cottesloe to Rottnest Island Feb 2019 20KM

  • Palm Beach to Shelly Beach Mar 2019 26KM

  • Melbourne Cold Water Camp Apr 2019 swim 8 hours in cold 13 - 14 degrees water (need to start putting on the kgs. or I haven’t a hope of lasting)

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In between these events which are a little easier because of the numbers, there are numerous other long Saturday sessions on the cards. What gets me through is that I have already had a few people reach out to me to talk and some even tell me of their own battles. If that is not enough motivation to get through the dark places in the water, then I don’t know what is.

Once these events lined up are completed I will then set new goals to help me through the last 12 months of my training plan to get across the English Channel in July 2020. There are so many people attending all of these events which allows me to spread the word – if I even tell only one stranger that is it OK to talk about how they are feeling then that event is worth it!


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IN YOUR MIND, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST WAYS TO REDUCE THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH?

The best way is to get more people talking about their feelings. The more common/normal this becomes, the less people will suffer in silence. Another way is to read about it - I myself was pretty ignorant to the details of mental health until I was a bit more educated and also had some firsthand experience with people suffering.

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WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST PEOPLE COULD SAY TO SOMEONE WHO IS SUFFERING TO ASSIST IN STARTING A CONVERSATION ABOUT THEIR MENTAL HEALTH?

There are so many ways, but a lot of people feel awkward not knowing what to do if someone says they are not OK. It can be as simple as a coffee catch up to allow for someone to unload their feelings, or even just allowing a safe space for someone to talk. But it is also important to realise when someone may benefit from a trained professional – luckily there are so many around nowadays, an introduction or suggestion could save a life.


DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE OR TIPS ON HOW TO PRACTICE RESILIENCE AND MANAGE MENTAL HEALTH ON AN ONGOING BASIS?

I can’t pass without saying swimming at first. Regardless of your ability it is the best form of meditation. Every day I am in the water I switch off and forget about everything going on with work, life, etc. If you want to know more on where to go then just reach out to me.

Outside of that I think it is important for everyone to take some selfish time for themselves to really switch off and just relax - ideally without the use of social media, TV, etc. Another one would be take a step back and think “Is there someone out there doing it worse than I am?” It is important to be realistic and grateful every day.

NEVER GIVE UP.

HELP SOMEONE ELSE – THIS IS THE BEST FEELING IN WORLD.

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE YOU WANT TO BE WITH AND NOT ONES YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO BE WITH.

STOP WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK – IT DOESN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE WHAT COLOUR HAIR YOU HAVE, HOW MUCH YOU WEIGH, WHAT CLOTHES YOU WEAR…. YOU ARE STILL THE SAME PERSON BENEATH IT ALL.


CAN YOU SUGGEST SOME LINKS TO ASSIST PEOPLE IN RESEARCH ON OR TO GET EXTRA SUPPORT?

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FINAL WORD?

I am hoping this will reach a wide audience within my network and beyond. If only 1 person out there decides to take the leap and open up about their feelings, then I will be on the right path.

CONTACT DETAILS

Instagram: @rourkeedo - This has been created purely for this journey to create awareness and to document some events and training. Please follow and spread the word!

Email: norourke@sharpandcarter.com.au

Niall O’Rourke
Director - Technology, Projects & Digital