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Olympic Medalist Heffernan’s Trainer Reveals the Secret to His Success

He’s a former world race-walking champion, he’s now the holder of an Olympic bronze medal from London 2012 and he’s also a lover of coffee, so much that he has an ambition to open a coffee shop in Cork – and plans are at a very early stage to turn this from a dream into reality.

‘I’d love to have my own coffee shop,’ Heffernan said.

‘It’s something I would love to have.

‘As an athlete for 11 months of the year I wouldn’t be out socialising, and a huge part of my life is meeting people before training and going for a coffee in the morning, or meeting people in general for a coffee.

‘I have done a couple of barista courses. I met Aidan Dukes who has a couple of coffee shops around Cork, in Mahon Point and down Carey’s Lane, and I am going to do a bit of work with him on and off, where he is going to mentor me and help me put a plan together.

‘I want to find a good location in Cork, I think it could be a good tourist attraction too, put up some memorabilia on the walls, some of the medals I have won, photos from over the years, but not have it completely about sport. I want somewhere that would have a nice ambience, where you could relax with friends and enjoy coffee.

‘That’s my two treats a day – a good coffee in the morning and a good coffee before I train in the evening. After a hard session there’s nothing I like more than going for a coffee and a cake.’

After a hectic couple of weeks, Heffernan deserves to indulge his love of coffee more than ever. He has launched his autobiography, Walking Tall, and he also received the Olympic bronze medal from London 2012 last Thursday, four years on from the race.

Heffernan came fourth in London in the 50km walk, just missing out on a medal, but after Russian gold medallist Sergey Kirdyakpin was subsequently disqualified for doping, the Cork man’s finish was upgraded.

Belatedly receiving the bronze medal last week, the 38-year-old became the first Irish athlete to receive an Olympic medal on home soil, at a packed City Hall ceremony in Cork.

‘It was a dream come true, I was shaking, it was such a joyous occasion,’ he said.

‘It was everything that is good about Cork, all of the sporting community came together and it was great to share the moment with the people who have been with me from day one. It was a magical experience and I’ll never forget it.

‘Everyone came together to give the medal the justice that it deserved and as it turned out it was probably better than getting it in London.’

Ironically, London is also his target destination next year with the 2017 world championships being held in the English capital. Heffernan is targeting another medal there, having already won a world gold in 2013, but he must plan without his wife Marian, who has stepped back from being his coach.

‘The worlds next year are my goal now,’ the Togher native said.

‘I’m back training, I’m trying to put a backroom team together now because Marian is not my coach anymore. She committed for four years, from London to Rio, and it was very tough and very difficult because she had to manage me and the kids.

‘It will be a huge change without Marian there. She will be a massive loss to our group, she was brilliant.

‘For October – and she has gone back studying – it felt a bit empty going training but now that she is getting her energy back, she’s happier and has more time to do her things, and that makes me happier, 100 per cent.

‘At the moment I am talking to a couple of people, to see can they get involved. That’s what I will try to get sorted in the next four to six weeks.’

Heffernan is already back training, clocking up the miles before the serious work begins.

‘I ran 50k a week all through October to keep me ticking over and I started back race walking last week,’ he said.

‘It was a busy week last week with the book launch, getting the medal, going on The Late Late Show, but it’s back to normal this week.

‘My November is always the same, it’s not specific work, but it’s base work, getting the mileage in, so I have a four-week window to pull a team together.’

It’s been a busier November than usual for Heffernan, with the Olympic medal presentation and the launch of Walking Tall, a page-turner that delves deep into his life and times, and the struggles he faced growing up and in athletics, and how he overcame adversity.

‘This book is not all about sport, it’s about overcoming obstacles,’ he said.

There are many interesting tales in this book and Heffernan doesn’t spare himself either, chastising himself for the rookie mistake he made ahead of the 50k walk at the Olympics in Rio in August, which was his fifth Olympics to compete in.

Heffernan finished fifth, having been moved up a place after Hirooki Aria was disqualified – and it might have been even better, he feels, if not for a basic mistakes.

‘Normally I would shave my head all summer but by the time Rio came around my hair had grown back,’ he explained.

‘I always race with my head shaved and it was an amateur mistake by me to shave my head the night before. I got badly sunburned on the day of the race – and maybe that led to me being more dehydrated than I would have been otherwise. I cramped up a bit because of that.

‘The positive part of my brain said then that I was still a medal contender despite that so what would have happened if I wore a hat? This went wrong and I still came fifth.

‘If you make a mistake, you own up to it, learn from it and eliminate it the next time. Don’t hide it away and bury it in the closet.’

That fifth place finish offers him hope for the world championships next year in London.

‘The 2020 Olympics are too far down the track to even be thinking about it. At the moment I want to get a team together for next year, I was in very good shape in Rio and I was very self critical of myself despite a sixth place finish in the Olympics,’ he added.

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